Monday, June 13, 2011

The first documented Raw Milk victory.

I won't lie, what these people did scares the dickens out of me. Would I do it in their situation? I'd like to think so, but it's so much easier to sit here in defiance behind my keyboard. Remember, all it takes for evil to win is for good people to do nothing.

Power Outage

Friday night we had a line of particularly nasty storms roll through.  This is the first really bad one that has hit us this year, and we lost power.  We have either a power outage or a propane outage about once a year.  We used to lose power every time the winds got over 30 mph (which is a lot here), but the power company  put in a new substation down the road from us and this is the first time we've lost power since they did that.

Last year we bought a propane tank rather than lease, and we had to wait for it to be installed for about 5 weeks after we emptied the old tank (we have an in-ground tank). When I was a teenager, an ice storm came through and we didn't have power for 2 weeks.  Outages of a day or two were pretty common for us a couple years ago.  So, I have a lot of experience living creatively when basic utilities aren't available.  When we have no electric, we have no oven and no water.  When we have no propane with have no stove, no hot water, and no central heat. 

Generally, when a really bad storm is coming up I store water.  Of course, I wasn't paying attention when this storm came up and didn't purposefully store any water.  I had made strawberry jam and hadn't dumped the water out of the canner yet, so I was able to wash dishes from dinner.  That got me thinking--maybe I should share what we keep for the event of an outage.

Prepare for a power outage

If you live out in the country, a power outage isn't just no A/C and lights.  It means no water, too.  We have a well, and I love not having a water bill, but we have to use electric from the house to pump our water.  I've thought of installing an outside hand pump, but it would mean widening the well (which is about 200 feet deep), so that's pretty expensive.  I plan on installing solar when we build the sheepshed.  So, you've got to be ready for no water, no sanitation, no lights, no refrigeration, no heat, and potentially no way to cook.

The first main step to preparation is to assess your needs.  How many people live in your home?    Do any of them have special needs, such as babies, the handicapped, or the elderly?  Think of things like needing to heat bottles, charge wheelchair batteries, generate oxygen, etc.  I'm going to assume that everyone in your household has no special needs and that if you have a baby, you are nursing and not using cloth diapers.  If you're outside that, plan accordingly.

Then, there are the farm-specific preparation considerations.  How many and what type of animals do you have?  Do you have young or pregnant animals that need special care?  What point are you at in your farm's process cycle?  Think of things like brooding, shearing,  lambing, calving, etc.  Butchering could also be a consideration, but generally that's something that can be moved back a bit if necessary.  Do you have produce that's ready to process for food preservation?  Is it planting time?

As part of this assessment, look at your assets.  Do you have a fireplace?  A gas oven?  A woodstove?  A grill?  A fire pit?  Rain barrels? Any of these can be useful in an outage.  If you are building, remodeling, or buying new appliances take these things into consideration.

Finally, the preparation will look different depending on the time of year.  What's important in the winter and the summer are completely different.  In the winter I recommend preparing for a minimum of one week and in the summer a minimum of 1 day.  It's much more likely in the winter that you will be snowed or iced in and unable to travel to town for supplies. 

Prepare for a propane or natural gas outage

In many ways, this one is easier.  You'll still have your fridge and your well in operation.  The three biggest considerations here are cooking, bathing, and heat.  This is also the less likely scenario (unless you forget to track your propane tank level or experience a major financial setback that prevents you from getting your next fill).  If you are on natural gas lines, you could experience an outage similar to an electric outage, but most of us country living types are too far out for that.  So, this one is one to be aware of, but I'd put preparing for it below preparing for an electric outage. Most of your electric preparations will apply here as well.

Our list

Here's what we keep on hand at all times, it represents at least one day's worth of supplies for our family of five.  We generally have more than this, but this is the minimum we don't let ourselves get down past.

  • A five gallon military water can, treated with bleach (4 drops from an eye dropper per gallon).  We change this out every 6 months and it sits in the laundry room.
  • Our animals' waterers are filled daily with at least 2 days worth of water.
  • 4 oil lamps, 5 charged flashlights, 2 candle lanterns, 1/2 gallon lamp oil, 6 candles, 12 tea lights, 4 extra lamp wicks.  I recommend getting your oil lamps from Lehman's.  I specifically recommend this model.  It puts out at least as much light as a 60 watt light bulb.  Tea lights are nice for bathrooms because they are small enough to sit on a sink and are self-contained.  (Remember to keep an eye on any open flame, especially if you have children or pets.)
  • 1/4 cord wood (can be used in our fireplace or fire pit).  We keep this much wood at all times, even in the summer.
  • A tea kettle, for heating small amounts of water quickly.
  • A boiling water bath canner, for heating large amounts of water for dishes, laundry, bathing, etc.
  • A gallon of bleach for sanitation.
  • Fireplace matches, for lighting fires/stove and for transferring flame from lamp to lamp.
  • Cast iron skillets and dutch ovens.  A fire grate.
  • A plastic container of cleaning wipes.
  • A plastic container of hand sanitizer (be aware that hand sanitizer kills the beneficial bacteria on your skin along with germs, so use sparingly).
  • Games, books, and craft projects that don't require power.
  • A cooler and a full ice bin in the freezer.
  • An AC adapter for the car (allows charging of phones and laptops).
  • A list of locations that sell dry ice.
  • A battery powered radio that gets weather bands.
I recommend preparing for mid (1-2 weeks), long (over 2 weeks), and extremely long (like months) term outages as well.  Our long-term goal is to be able to live completely off -grid.  At our current level of preparation, we are prepared for outages in the 2 week range.  Our main issues are water and food preservation.  The next thing we intend to do is install rain barrels to catch run off from the house.  That will take care of most of our needs for around a month, but that would not be potable water, so we would need to purify it for cooking and drinking.  We would also need to can, smoke or dehydrate all our frozen food if we were in a long term outage, but that's doable, even over a fire.  I did all my canning last year during our no-propane time and was able to safely can with both a pressure and water bath canner over a fire.

Which brings me to my last suggestion.  Whatever your plan is, test it.  Tell the kids you are going to have a "pioneer adventure night."  (Or whatever gets them excited.)  What skills do you need?  Can you bake in a dutch oven?  Do you know how to heat water and sanitize dishes?  Can you brew coffee without your coffee maker?  Can you water your garden without waste?  Can your kids cope without their electronics?  Better to find out the gaps in your plan now than when you are in a stressful situation or really depending on it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Salmonella Outbreak

The CDC is reporting an outbreak of salmonella that has sickened at least 39 people in 12 states.  It appears as though the outbreak can be traced to a single mail order company, but chicks from this company are sold through at least one feed store chain.  They aren't currently identifying the company or the chain, so if you've purchased any chicks this year, please be careful.  Here are some basic safety tips for handling chickens (and any livestock for that matter):
  • Always handle the youngest birds first.  Young birds have an immature immune system and can be sickened by diseases from an older bird.
  • Avoid eating, drinking, smoking, or touching your hands to your face while working with your birds.
  • Never nuzzle or kiss your birds.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water (or use hand sanitizer) immediately after working with birds.
These rules apply whenever you are working with your birds, feeding or watering them, in their enclosure for any reason, working with manure that has not been composted at high temperature, or cleaning equipment used with them.  The CDC also recommends that the very young (under 5 years old) and very elderly do not handle birds at all.  In my experience this isn't a very realistic expectation with  a backyard flock, but these groups are the most likely to get sick, and if they do become ill they are the most likely to experience severe complications, including hospitalization and death.

For the full CDC report:

Please remember that salmonella can be transmitted to the egg, so eggs of infected chickens are likely to be contaminated, and chicks born to an infected chicken can also be carriers.  Chickens can live normal an productive lives while carrying salmonella infections.  Some possible signs of salmonella include:
  • Diarreha, lethargy, and/or going off their feed
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hatching eggs that develop normally for a few days, then suddenly die
  • When dead birds are examined, the liver, spleen, kidney, and heart can appear to have suffered damage
  • Remember, in chickens, it is possible for salmonella to be present with no outward indications
If you suspect salmonella in your flock, tests are available.  I would recommend contacting your local veterinarian for more information.

One parting thought--Remember not to wash your eggs unless they are excessively dirty.  If you do wash them, use them right away.  Eggs have a protective bloom on them that keeps the potential little one inside safe from outside diseases.  Washing removes this bloom and can force bacteria through the porous shell.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chickens. Eat. A. Lot.

Went out to feed the chickens today and they were completely out of food again!  Mary only half filled their feeder yesterday morning.  Looks like I'm going to have to go to filling it every day.  There are 33 growing birds right now, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  But still, I mean, wow.  They are going through about 7 lbs of food a day, on top of what they are foraging.  I may have to move into grinding my own feed sooner than I thought.

I'm going to take a minute here and look at the costs of chicken raising, now that I know what little piggies they are. At $12-$14 for a 50 lb bag, that seems like a lot of money to put into chicken.  I've got 3-5 weeks before they are big enough to butcher.  Doing the math, that's $2-3 in feed per chicken, so I guess it's not terrible.  I got them for about $2  each, so I'm looking at about $5 for a broiler/fryer that will weigh out butchered at about 4-5 lbs.  A dollar a pound for free range, antibiotic-free meat is a bargain.

I didn't include here the cost of the range shelter, equipment, or the fencing.  We actually built the range shelter from scrap wood we had and left over shingles and tar paper from fixing our roof.  So, the only cost there was $5 in paint.  The fence right around their enclosure was also built at no cost because we used left over fence posts and poultry netting from when we had ducks, and left over tent stakes from some old tents to stake the fence down.  We did buy the electric poultry netting, that cost $140.  The solar energizer, wire, ground rod, and incidentals cost about $200.  For feeders, waterers and brooders we spent about $60.  So, the total cost there was about $400.  We had a real problem with our ducks roaming the neighborhood and we have very brave skunks, so I didn't want to take any chances.  We are going to keep chickens for eggs though.  The useful life of the equipment and fencing we bought should be about 10 years, so that amortises out to $40 per year.  Once we start laying, I'll calculate that cost into the eggs, as well as the cost of the chicken coop when we get it built.

You could do it much more cheaply.  My sister in law kept her chickens in her fenced in back yard and bought a prefab coop for about $200 I believe.  If you were only keeping meat birds and had a fenced yard, you could get by with just the feeders, waterers, brooder, and a place for them to get in out of the sun and rain (a tarp or an old dog house would even work.)  A word the wise here--if you raise Cornish X of some type (we don't) they will need a roost and they will generate a huge pile of droppings where ever it is.  Cornish X are hybridized meat birds that can get to 6 lb butchering weight in as little as 6 weeks, but all they do is convert feed to meat.  That means they sit around and poop.  A lot.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My "conversion" story

I don't like to really call it a conversion.  I didn't change from one thing to another.  It was more of a homecoming, an evolution of the soul.  But, you be the judge.

Please pray

My husband is currently in the process of networking with some people to try to land a dream job.  Please pray for God's will to be done, and if you want to put in a word for His will to be that he get the job, that would be cool too.

The benefits of being an early riser

Okay, first, I am *not* an early riser by nature.  10am is a great time to get up as far as I'm concerned.  And, I'm married to a night owl who goes to bed at midnight or later on a work night.  So, getting up early is not easy for me.  I made the effort this morning because I still had some things that weren't planted and didn't feel like doing my outside chores in the forecasted 100 degree heat.

So, I was up at 6:30 this morning (hush those of you who think this is not early).  I had my coffee and read a wonderful devotional in The Word Among Us.  Today's New Testament Reading is Acts 20:28-38.  St. Paul is leaving Ephesus after a 3 year ministry there.  The devotional reading focuses on Paul's care for the weak in the Church there.  Here's an excerpt:
Every community, every congregation, even every family has its own "weak" members....  These are the ones Paul singled out for special attention, for he knew the fundamental precept that those who are more graced should care for those who are in need--not take advantage of them or ignore them.
Such a philosophy goes against our human nature.  Those who move quickly find it irritating to slow down for those who lag behind.  It can be hard for someone with a quick mind to have to explain things to someone who just doesn't et it.  Instead of puttin ourselves in their shoes, we tend to imagin them in ours:  "If that happened to me, I would surely have handled it better."  But when we do this, we exercise the judgment that belongs to God and fail to extend his mercy--a mercy that belongs to the strong and weak alike.
This could have been written about me.  It has to be hard having me for a mom.  I just pray that God will help me to show mercy to my children and encourage them, even, perhaps especially, when they do the same dumb thing for the 9,000th time.

Speaking of which, did you know that an electric fence is pretty ineffective at keeping in starving chickens?  I had the kids feed and water the chickens yesterday and, well, let's just say it's a good thing they don't do it every day.  I went outside to see 2/3 of the babies and all of the pullets (who should not be able to fit) had squeezed through the electric poultry netting and were foraging in our side yard.  So, I spread some feed out on the ground and woke my 13 year old (14 tomorrow) daughter to come out and watch them as they ate, and fill their food and water properly.  I, by the grace of God, did this without yelling or getting snarky once.  And, you know what?  I think she learned the lesson of how to care for them properly better for it.

Oh--and a bonus--they all went back inside the fence with no complaints or stragglers.  That is truly a miracle.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Well that figures....

I just finished getting every single plant watered this morning.  So, of course it's blowing up a storm right now. :/

Garden Progress

The Herb Garden

This is the new herb garden at the front of the house. The front of the bed will have flowers as a border for this year. Planted here are parsley, dill, rosemary, scented geranium, wormwood, catnip, spearmint, peppermint, thyme, and true oregano. I left plenty of space for the mints and catnip to expand. That area doesn't have landscape fabric down, but the rest of the garden does. I'm hoping this helps to keep them contained, since mints spread everywhere once they get started.

I actually had to replant the catnip because the cats ate the original plant before it could establish. It now has a cage around it made of chicken wire in hopes of keeping them from destroying it.

We have another herb and flower garden on the otherside of the house, but it is so weedy it makes me cry. Once I clean it up I will post it.

The Fruit Orchard

This is the fruit orchard, still really small. It's at the front of the property to do triple duty. We live on a gravel road that gets *extremely* dusty. (As in I can have a 1/8 inch coating of dust on my dining room table in an hour. As in we generate our own smoke screen when we mow within 50 feet of the road.) so, the plan is for it to help screen the house from the road and help keep the dust that reaches the house down.

The two trees that need the grass cut around them are Granny Smith apples that we planted a few years ago. This is the first year they have fruited and we have 4 apples. They need a little pruning, but next year I hope they will start to have a significant yield. The tree on the far right is a new Northern Spy apple tree we just purchased. The two trees to the front are plum trees. They have as much fruit on them as the established apple trees, even though we just planted them!

The Vegetable Garden

I had the kids stand in the garden for perspective. My daughter is actually almost 6 feet tall. We're in the process of putting down cardboard and newspaper between the rows as mulch. Our land was commercially farmed for generations, so we are still building up the soil. You can see the compost pile there on the left.

So, here's what's planted, left to right:

One row of buckwheat
One row of alfalfa
One row with carrots and radishes in a wide bed, zucchini, and a few peppers
One row of peppers and cilantro
3 rows of tomatoes intermixed with basil (romas, cherry, heirloom mix, and a couple of beefsteaks
3 rows of Kentucky wonder beans
One row of cabbage and garlic (red and white cabbage and garlic does double duty to repel rabbits)
One row of peas, lettuce, and onions
Another row of just onions
A potato patch behind those three rows (russets, reds, and sweet potatoes)
6 30' rows of corn to the front on the right
one row of slicing cucumbers
one row of cantaloupes
one row of pumpkins
one row of pickling cucumbers
one row of butternut squash
two rows of watermelon

Monday, June 6, 2011

Planting, planting, and more planting

I need to stop going to the garden center. I keep coming back with more stuff to plant. I got the new herb garden finished today and fully watered the entire vegetable garden in one day. Mark fixed the hose so the sprinkler actually gets water to it. I still need to plant the sweet potatoes, calendula, and the border flowers for the herb garden. It's supposed to be stupid hot tomorrow (I guess today now) so I'm going to be up with the sun and get it done. I also need to get the rest of the cardboard and newspaper down in between the garden rows so I have a prayer of keeping up with the weeding this year. I took some pictures and will post them tomorrow at some point.

Oh, by the way

I'll be moving the links and old blogs (and some new ones) over here in the next few days. Not sure how long that will take or when I will have time since I'm still in full-on planting mode for another day or two (dang monsoons).

I am back, I swear.

So, after a several year hiatus to work outside (and inside with a crazy schedule) the home while homeschooling (not easy, trust me), Culloden House Farms is back. Here's a link to the old blog.

So, lots has happened since way back then. Or not much, depending on how you look at it. We've converted (I hate that word, I mean, I never wasn't a Christian, and it's not like Methodists are suddenly anathema) to Catholicism. I'm working from home full time on top of homeschooling and running a farm. We've gone from ducks to chickens.

We're still classically homeschooling. (After a brief foray into OHVA. Didn't work for the boys, but Mary is liking it and will continue, with some Classical "extra-curriculars" thrown in.) We still don't have sheep, but at least we are making motions in that direction. Still organic, still freedom-loving. I still use parentheses too much.

So, welcome or welcome back!