As each season has it’s own unique challenges there are aspects of spring that are not seen any other time of the year. With warming days the itch to work outdoors is ever present but not always attainable. For instance, a few beautiful days in March melted the snow to such an extent that there was a lake between my house and barn. This lovely pond later half froze making trips to the barn treacherous at best. This slippery path blocking situation made doing chores difficult for a few weeks especially with baby Penelope. It wasn’t safe to carry her with me so Lucian kept an eye on her while she slept and I listened on the baby monitor. Mostly he made sure Fiona left her alone. Fiona is two and she loves her baby sister but she is not the gentlest when showing the love.
As the pond dried up we have been able to get out and about better. The rains have been coming at least once or twice a week now which keeps us inside but overall the temperature is much warmer. The ducks love it when it rains and the kids and I enjoy watching them splash around in the puddles. The goats however do not enjoy the rain. I watch Nora in the doorway of her shelter voicing her displeasure over the wet weather. However, Nora loves to complain about every little thing so I tune out her vociferous appeals for drier days.
Besides the warmer temperature and wetter days the animals are showing me signs that winter is at an end. The chickens and ducks are laying eggs again. They are laying between 10 to 20 eggs a day right now, so if anyone wants farm fresh eggs I am up to my eyeballs in eggs. We were getting 2 duck eggs a day from our two hens but one of the hens went missing last week. I’m not sure if a predator found her when they were splashing in the creek or if she is nesting somewhere and she’ll waddle back in a month with a trail of ducklings.
Another sign of spring is Fauna our Nubian/Oberhasli cross had her kids a week before Easter. She had 1 doeling and 1 buckling. Unfortunately she is not the best mother of our two goats. She has a habit of ignoring the weaker of her babies until they are lethargic from cold and lack of food. Every year we have to warm one up in the house and bottle feed it until it is strong enough to go back outside. Usually it takes a few hours until the kid is ready to go. This year she ignored the little girl so we brought her in where she was subjected to Fiona’s loving care for a few hours until she was strong enough to go back to mom. When I put her back out I made sure Fauna let her eat for a while. She is now just as rambunctious as her bigger brother.
The chicks are hatching out at Northwood School with the 4th grade class like they do every year. As of yesterday there were a dozen healthily hatched chicks but the incubator will be running until tomorrow so we may have a few more. Last year we hit our best hatch out record. Of the 41 eggs in the incubator 26 hatched. I hope this year does just as well. The school kids love this project and I am happy I can help broaden their agricultural horizons. This year the chicks will be going to my sister Sondra who lost all her chickens last year to a persistent fox or two.
I am ready for spring to fully bloom so we can get started on the garden. Lucian is going to have his own corner of the garden to take care of this year and I am planning to improve my herb garden. Trenton is going to be working on aerating, liming, and reseeding the pastures this week so they are more productive. The window of spring is small but there is so much work to be done. Better get cracking!
As I look back on previous posts I realized it was time to lay out our goals for this upcoming year. Technically speaking we are already 3 months into the new year but for farming most of the yearly goals happen after the snow melts. Since there is still 2 feet of snow on the ground and the temperature is still in the single digits there is a little time to contemplate what we want to accomplish this year on the farm.
First a look at last year’s goals:
- Remodel the bathroom: This goal is still in progress, I would say 1/3 of the way done. We have learned that bathrooms are harder and more expensive to remodel than any other room in the house except the kitchen.
- Roof the barn: Unfortunately the steel for the barn is still in the shed rather than on the barn.
- Cut trees, burn brush, and plant orchard: We cut the trees out of the orchard plot but the brush still needs to be gathered and burned before we plant trees.
- Build a movable duck coop: Goal accomplished!
- Repair chicken coop: The door to the coop has been repaired but the bottom board along the foundation of the barn still needs replacing.
- Mulch vegetable garden, flower beds, and herb garden: All the flower beds were happily mulched this year. We mulched a good portion of the garden but a few escaping chickens destroyed that handy work so we may not repeat it next year. The herb garden still awaits mulching day.
Recap of last year is finished. Many of these goals will be on the list for this year but I hope we have better luck accomplishing them. We have a new baby this year so it is hard to say how many goals I will be able to tick off the list.
- Put new steel on barn roof.
- Finish bathroom remodel.
- Burn brush from orchard
- Mulch herb garden
- Make new nesting boxes for chicken coop and repair outside.
- Fix foundation crack in pig pen.
Most of my goals are fix-it goals this year but buying an old farmstead requires a lot of fix-it work. New babies also have low stamina for hanging out in strollers or bouncy seats outside while mom and dad work on projects so attainable goals are what I’m after this year.
Everyday chores get a little harder to do in the winter time. Especially when the winter starts to seem like the never ending winter from Narnia. For example today is nice and sunny at 21 degrees and we have accumulated about 24″ of snow so far this season in northwestern Wisconsin. I know it is not the harshest winter we have had but we are running out of places to put all the snow.
The critters have hunkered down for the cold season. The goats have been snuggling together to keep warm in the barn. The girls even huddled up with the smelly buck during the 3 day super freeze in January when the high was -17 not including the wind. We put them all together for those days so he wouldn’t freeze to death and not one animal left the barn while it was that cold with the wind as nasty as it was. Now that it is above zero and not snowing (today) the goats are back outside during the day. Even though it is still cold I believe they do better outside than cooped in their stalls in the barn. The girls and the buck each have a shelter outside to get out of the wind.
The ducks have settled in with the chickens, although I don’t think the chickens or the ducks appreciate it. I may have to rethink their housing situation for next year. Right now they are creating a big icy hump in the coop under the water dish because they like to splash around. Trenton built them a beautiful duck house when they were small but they quickly grew out of it. As we learned more about the habits and behaviors of ducks we realized that the house he built was not appropriate for them. It will however make a great contained chicken coop with a run for any broody hens we have in the spring. We usually have one or two but they have never been successful hatching chicks. Hopefully with a pen to themselves the hens will have better luck.
The barn kitties spend half their day huddled under the heat lamp in our pump house. We have never had a heat source for them before and they have done fine in the barn during the cold months but after our house cat was spayed she decided to start spraying in the house. That’s a deal breaker for a house cat so she became a barn cat but it would have been too harsh a temperature change going from the heated house to the unheated barn so we put a heat lamp out there for her. The rest of the barn cats are loving it too. I think we are going to insulate the pump house this year and keep it lightly heated for next winter.
Morning chores are not as fun in the winter. I spend half my time pounding ice out of water buckets and trudging through snow to put animals out. I also no longer have my little helpers out there with me. It is too cold for them and they only have a 15 minute tolerance to being outside when it is this cold. With all that and the fact that I am 9 months pregnant right now, winter chores just stink.
As we step into March I can look forward to three things:
- Warmer Temperatures (Usually)
- Highest Snowfall Month (Always)
- New Baby (Anytime Now)
As a farmer I have to be out there to take care of my animals because I know they depend on me to survive the winter and stay healthy. I may complain about it a little but secretly I like it. It makes me go outside which keeps me healthy and gives me a little better endurance for the elements. It also gives me the drive to finish what I start and I want my kids to have that also. Even though I know I am getting frostbite on my face and hands I need to finish feeding the animals because while I am only in the cold for a short time they are out there all day and they need the food to keep warm.
Hope everyone is enjoying the winter. Technically only 20 days to go until spring, but actually it will be in another 2 months. Which is why we have books, coffee, play-dough, and hot cocoa in between our bouts out in the weather. And why mommy knits scarves, hats, and slippers for little tikes.
This is a very belated post that I started in October! I have no idea where the last two months went. I thought about scrapping it and moving on to current events but I decided since it was half done I would post it anyway as a catch up from fall.
Fall is a time when the garden is harvested but it is also time for the spring chickens to be processed.
Every year I hatch chicks with a local school. This year we kept 14 of the 26 chicks that hatched. Usually I only keep a few or I sell them but this year I kept almost half of them. Unfortunately 10 of them were roosters. What do you do with 10 extra roosters in a coop full of laying hens?
This year we also experimented with ducks. We were able to successfully hatch out 11 ducklings from 20 eggs. Unfortunately there were two little ones that were the last to hatch and we helped them along with the hatching process a little. It proved to be a reminder for me that although I want to help them, in the end it didn’t really help them at all. One died a few weeks later and the other after a few months. Out of the 9 surviving ducks 7 of them were drakes. Again what do you do with a surplus of drakes?
It was time to thin the flock. We borrowed my Uncle Loni’s chicken plucker and set the date which turned out to be very cold. As we butchered 9 roosters (we kept one, he is too pretty to eat) and 4 ducks I discovered a few differences in butchering chickens and ducks.
Ducks are not the same to butcher as chickens:
- Using the chicken plucker did not work well for ducks. The feathers did not come off easily.
- Dunking them in boiling water did not make the feathers easy to remove.
- They have a lot more fat than chickens.
- Their physical structure made cleaning them a little trickier.
Overall butchering ducks is not an experiment I will be repeating. We kept two hens and two drakes and I am looking forward to eggs in the spring. If they are able to hatch out any ducklings they will be for sale in the spring because I will not be butchering anymore ducks.
Goodbye to extra roosters and ducks.
Hello to kittens.
Our house kitty managed to escape into the great outdoors before we were able to spay her so we have kittens. The kids are loving them. Trying to keep Fiona, who is two now, from loving them too much is a bit of a challenge.
For the last three weeks I have been giving my niece, Aurora, lessons in horsemanship. It is fun for the both of us to see where each lesson will go. The first lesson I had fairly planned out but each lesson after that has depended on what skills I believe need reinforcing.
Lesson 1: Groundwork
When working with horses groundwork is more important than the actual riding so she did not ride on her first lesson. She was a bit bummed but she understood how important it is to know the groundwork first.
- Haltering – She has to be able to catch the horse before she can do anything with it.
- Leading – Aurora has to be able to lead him from place to place safely without him stepping on her feet because she is only 7 and has short arms I ran a lead rope through a 1 1/2 section of plastic pipe so she can hold it at the bottom of the pipe to give her room to maneuver him without him walking on her.
- Brushing – This is fun for the both of them!
- Hooves – I have been teaching her to pick up his feet and clean them to be sure he has no rocks in his hooves. She has a hard time with this because Jack does not always pick his feet up nicely and it can be an awkward position until you get used to it.
- Lunging – She has been learning how to lunge Jack on a lunge line. This is an important skill because it teachers Jack that he needs to listen to her and it teaches her how to get his attention. They learn to listen to each other.
Lesson 2: Balance
During our second session she completed all the skills she learned in the first lesson while I gave her a little more responsibility of them.
- Bridling – The bridle is what you put on the horse when you ride. The bit gives you control over direction and speed. Aurora learned how to put the bridle on over a small rope halter so I could lead him while she learned how to work the reins.
- Bareback riding – Riding bareback can be a little trickier than riding with a saddle because you need to have better balance and there is nothing to hang onto but the horse itself so I started with this. She could feel how Jack moved better and learned how to sit up to keep herself centered.
Lesson 3: Saddling
We went through all the groundwork from lesson 1 before we moved onto new skills.
- Saddling – The saddle gives you more stability while riding. I taught her how to put the saddle on although she is not tall enough to put it onto his back. I may find a stool for next time so she can do it all on her own. 🙂
- Reining – After Jack was saddled and bridled I hooked the lunge line to a small rope halter that fits under the bridle. Arora worked on keeping him in the circle space and away from me (he kept wanting to see me and complain of his troubles). She had a bit of a hard time with this. I think I am going to try different reins that are tied together so she doesn’t have to keep adjusting length. It’s second nature to me so I didn’t think about it before.
- Pace – She also worked at keeping him at a walk. Jack’s a bit lazy and would rather stand there and eat grass so she had to keep him moving.
- Unsaddling – What goes on must come off.
When he was unsaddled she wanted to ride bareback again so we finished with that.
We’ve been having a great time and I’m glad she’s sticking with it.
It’s haying season!
Winters in Wisconsin are long and the summers are short so we have to make hay while the sun shines. Farming is completely dependent on the weather. It can be hard to understand what that means unless you have had to bale hay rather than go out on the lake with your friends or have spent the better part of the day on a tractor in the sun.
It sounds terrible when I put it like that but it’s not. Usually all it takes is careful planning to figure out how you can bale hay while still having a bit of fun. Also driving a tractor can be therapeutic in it’s monotony. Up and down the field, watch whatever you are pulling to be sure it is working properly, up and down the field. As long as nothing breaks the process can be mind numbing.
For those of you who don’t know the process:
- Mow the grass.
- Let is dry.
- Rake it over so the bottom side can dry.
- Let it dry some more.
- If the bales are small squares they need to be unloaded or larger round bales need to be hauled off the field.
I drive tractor for my dad in the summer and he pays me in hay for the winter. This last weekend we brought home a wagon load of hay from his farm and we had to get it unloaded before it rained so everyone helped. I unloaded the bales from the wagon onto an elevator that runs them into the hay mow, Lucian pushed the bales closer to me on the wagon, Trenton stacked the bales up top, Fiona manned the truck, and Jack (the horse) tried to eat the hay so we wouldn’t have to move it.
Lucian had a great time until he pushed a precariously perched bale and fell with it along with three other bales. When I dug him out and he needed a little snuggle and a break but he was back at it 5 minutes later. He did awesome! We finished in about 45 minutes while Fiona fell asleep in the truck. Afterwards we all went for little swim to cool off. There’s half our hay for the winter settled in the barn.
Lucian figured out where we could get a new buck for the fall completely on his own. Out of the blue one day he said, “We should get a new billy goat from Papa Kenny’s and bring him home to live with us.”
Papa Kenny is Trenton’s uncle and he lives about 5 hours west of where we are.
Trenton’s uncle told Lucian that he could have one of his baby goats as long as he thought of a good name for it that wasn’t “Billy.”
So when we went to visit Lucian told his Papa Kenny that he wanted to name his new goat Frank. He looked over the three or four males in the pen and picked out a great looking Toggenburg buck. Kenny threw in a two horse trailer he didn’t need any more so Frank had a comfortable ride back to Wisconsin (which was awesome) and so we have our new addition to the farm. A great big Thank You to Ken and Lori for the goat and the trailer.
On a farm animals tend to come and go. Sometimes it can be hard for Lucian when an animal goes to a new home but he is still young so he has a tendency to forget after a while. Or so I think, but he has the memory of an elephant and will ask why an animal had to go to a new home months later. For example, we sold our Billy goat last fall after breeding season for a few different reasons.
- We kept one of his daughters so we would need a new breeding buck anyway.
- He was getting aggressive as he matured and had become hard to handle safetly. We kept him for three years which is the longest we have kept a buck.
His question last week was, “Why did Billy have to go to a new home? I really liked him. Was he getting too mean with his horns?”
He understands why he needed to go to a new home but he has to mull over changes for a while. I hope we are able to keep Frank for a good long time and when he is ready for a new home Lucian will be old enough to fully grasp the reasons why without getting too upset.
A little mud and water never hurt anyone, right? That’s Right!
Northern Wisconsin seemed to jump directly from winter to summer over the span of two or three weeks and let me tell you it was a little rough. A foot of snow on the ground at the end of April turned into 90 degree days in the middle of May. I did not adjust to the heat very well and neither did the goats. Halfway through the day I had to put them in the barn for a few hours so they could cool off. The grass was dry, crusty, and wilty and I was concerned I would not have any pasture for the animals, but it finally rained.
It rained for about a week and we needed every drop of it. So with big mud puddles in the yard and driveway the kids took advantage of it.
They played in this mud puddle for a long time and we as happy as little ducks in a new pond.
It sure was bath time when they were done though!
We have new additions to our little funny farm. The ducklings have hatched!
My sister brought me three dozen duck eggs a little over a month ago for me to try hatching duck eggs in our incubator. I did a little research and Lucian and I loaded them into the egg turner.
A few fun facts about duck eggs:
- Duck eggs require a little more time to hatch then chicken eggs. Chicken eggs hatch at 21 days whereas duck eggs hatch at 28 days with the exception of Muscovy ducks which take 35 days.
- They require extra moisture. Starting at about day 10 until day 25 the eggs either need to be sprayed with water or dunked to keep them moist enough. Think wet duck feathers setting on eggs in the wild.
- Duck eggs need to be cooled off a bit each day starting at day 10 until day 25. I let them cool a bit at the same time I wetted them. Two birds with one stone.
- Ducklings take longer to hatch then chicken eggs. I was concerned about this. I had about 7 eggs with cracked shells for DAYS! Chicks usually hatch within a day after the shell starts cracking. Apparently duck egg shells are much harder than chicken egg shells.
I started out with three dozen eggs at day 10 Lucian and Fiona helped me candle the eggs. There were 7 that were not developing so we tossed them. I candled them again at day 25 when I needed to take them out of the egg turner. Several were questionable but two were mostly blank so I left the two out. Exactly on day 28 I had a massive hatch-out of 6 ducklings almost together. After one hatches I believe the others here it cheering them on and the rest really start pushing. Two more hatched later that night and another two, with a little help, the next day. I only had one that started to hatch and didn’t make it. Ten healthy ducklings!
Lucian loved watching the ducklings hatch. We watched the first one together and he was cheering it on.
“I can see it’s feathers.”
“You can do it! Come on push!”
Fiona wanted to watch them all the time with her little nose pressed against the plexiglass of the incubator. We all love our little flock of ducklings.
We had been watching the goats very closely for the last week and finally the kids are here!
We have two mama goats on our little farm: Nora and Fauna. Nora always has her kids first and that has not changed this year. I went to the bank and when I came back she had one baby on the ground. I sat on a little wagon a ways away and waited to see if anymore would appear. Before too long she pushed out another one and much to my surprise a short bit later one more popped out feet first. Triplets! This is the second time Nora has delivered triplets but last year one of them died soon after birth. All three are healthy bouncy kids.
Two days later I had to work for a few hours in the morning. Trenton and the kids came into town and we had lunch together before heading home. After settling Lucian and Fiona down for a nap we went outside to get a few boards to start building the duck coop. I could hear the goat kids making noises like they were lost so I went to see who was stuck. Goat kids do not stay in fences until they are at least a month old and don’t fit through tiny spaces you think only a cat can fit through anymore. I looked into their shelter and behold Fauna had triplets also! All I have to do is leave for a few hours and that’s when the goats will kid.
We have never had so many healthy kids before!
The kids, my kids, love to play with the babies and the babies love to play with them. It is always fun to have spring babies. This picture is of Lucian, Fiona and Natalie (Nora’s kid from last spring.)
. Chicks, kids, and soon ducklings. Spring has finally sprung.