Monthly Archives: September 2010

Happy Fall

Sure, it’s been raining all day, but I wanted to celebrate the coming of October with a sunnier image.

Welcome to the season of apple cider, colorful foliage, crisp mornings, sweaters but not yet coats, the end of the reign of mosquitoes, harvest festivals, pumpkin in everything from baked goods to beer, a sudden desire to go hiking…

We’ve been waiting for you.


Preparing for pigs

We’re a few weeks away from the arrival of our sows.  There’s actually a small chance we may buy a pregnant sow in addition to our baby girls, although I’m not sure how ready we are to have piglets in late winter.  We shall see.

Regardless, the oinks are going to need a place to stay.  The plan is to have them winter over in the lower yard, which will be next year’s vegetable garden.  Then the pigs can till everything up with their rooting and fertilize it all with their, well, pooping.  Come spring, we’ll move them up to the woods where they’ll have plenty of shade all summer (and they can go to town clearing out all the underbrush for us).

The posts for the electric fencing are already in place in the lower yard (to keep the pigs in, and come harvest season, the deer out), using cedars from the woods.  Next up was building a shelter.

Again, Will and his dad tackled the job, framing out the pig house over two days.

The house is built on skids, as we’ll need to use the pickup truck to drag it to the woods when we relocate the hog operation.  The house is designed to comfortably house two sows and their piglets.

The following weekend, Will’s brother joined in to help add the roof and walls.

Pretty impressive for a retired shoe salesman, a musician and a cook.  All that’s left to do is prime it, paint it, and put some metal on the roof for extra protection, but that will have to wait until the rain lets up.

Hoop House of Assumptions

We always assumed we’d build a movable chicken coop, a la Polyface Farms.  Will even read a book on day ranging chickens while in Las Vegas (just picture that for a moment… everyone else sunning themselves while flipping through US Weekly or Vogue, and my husband decked in a pair of jeans rolled up the knees studying Day Range Poultry and drinking a bloody mary).  It was actually because of that book that we ordered the hoop house in the first place.

But, looking at the pile of rods and the prospects of trying to make the thing light enough to be movable but strong enough to not rip apart while being moved, it suddenly occurred to us that we don’t have some massive beef operation over 50 acres where we need the chickens to serve as the clean up crew… we have a 3 acre pasture.

Meaning maybe we didn’t need to move the hen house, maybe we could just use the poultry netting to move the hens.  In the spring, we can always build chicken tractors for the broilers to make sure all that good chicken poop and scratching gets evenly spread and helps the grass grow even more lushly for the sheep’s dinner.  But let’s keep things simple for our 30+ ladies and let them stay put.  Plus, if we decide using a hoop house isn’t working for us, we’ll have one super fertilized green house.

Will and his dad set to work.  The first task was straightforward enough – drive the posts several feet into the ground and frame out the structure.

After that things fell apart in the instructions department.  You see, the kit came with the metal frame and the plastic cover, but it pretty much stopped there.  The instructions reference needing to buy wood and a door but they don’t give any dimensions.  Maybe it’s a farmer thing, where they do this all the time and don’t need explicit, step-by-step guides (ideally with illustrations).  Or maybe it’s that having recently had a child we’ve grown accustomed to 14 page manuals for how to open a stroller.  Regardless, the lack of guidance was frustrating and resulted in multiple trips to the hardware store.  Wood had to be bought and cut to frame the base.  Then we needed to figure out how to attach said wood to said metal frame.  Then strips of wood needed to be cut thin enough to bend with the arc of the house so there would actually be something to fasten the plastic cover to (using staples, or at least that’s what we did, because there was no mention of how to get the plastic to stay put).

What was billed as a Saturday project spanned several weekends, but we final have a hoop house for the chickens (who are currently living in the shed).

The white fencing in the picture is the poultry netting and that black box on a stick is the solar power battery to electrify the fence (can you tell we’re determined not to lose any of this batch of birds).

Just like the hoop house, the poultry netting and battery also suffer from the assumption that anyone who would possibly buy something as specific as this product must know how to use it.  Of the 12 steps in the instructions, 8 of them pertain to unrolling the fence and 1 covers electrifying it.  Seriously?  I can handle unrolling something, but you want me to send 2,000 volts of electricity through a bunch of plastic netting and all you can give me is “attach battery” ?  They are kind enough to throw in a gauge to check the voltage level, but there are no instructions whatsoever on how to use it.

In the process of hooking everything up, Watson ran over to us, grazed the fence and yelped.  We assumed everything must be working.

Foraging: Black Walnuts

Will and Alston had a productive day:

Now we’ll have to reference one of the shelf full of homesteading and organic gardening books we’ve bought over the last 4 months to figure out how to dry these so we can actually eat the nuts.

I’m a duck ninja

Every night, we chase down the ducks in the their enclosure, pick them up and manually put them in their house, to make sure they don’t get eaten.  We’ve been doing this for about two weeks now, and I’m getting quite good at catching ducks.  It turns out, the trick is grabbing them by the neck.

I know, that sounds terrible.  And no, I’m not actually picking them up by the neck.  But.  If you can get your hand around a duck’s neck, it seems that it stops struggling and just lies down, making it super-easy to pick it up properly (grabbing it around the top of the torso, high enough that it can’t scratch you with its feet).  I’ve gotten so good, the herd of six can charge me and seconds later I have a duck in both hands.  The night routine now takes five minutes instead of twenty.

Still, I wish they’d just learn to use the ramp we built.  Silly ducks.

Planning for wool

Since I’m going to have five fleeces of wool come spring, I’ve started doing some research about what I could possibly do with it.

Sell it: while Googling, I’ve noticed eBay has a large quantity of postings for raw wool.  I’m sure there’s a more conventional way to find a buyer, but it is intriguing.  The going price looks like $10 – $20 per pound.  Of course, I have no idea how many pounds of fleece 5 sheep will yield.

Yarn or Felt it: We happen to have a mill pretty nearby.  Central Virginia Fiber Mill will process your wool into yarn, roving batt or felt (for a fee, of course).  Now for a confession – I have no idea what roving batt is.  However, I’ve always wanted to learn how to knit, so this could be a fantastic excuse.

Pay someone else to be crafty: Some mills will not only process and dye your raw wool, but actually make it into something for you.  Zeilinger Wool Co. is one such example, and they’ll even make socks out of your wool.  Crazy!

To get a better idea of what options we have, we’re going to try to attend the Fall Fiber Festival at Montpelier on October 2nd and 3rd.  I had no idea this festival existed prior to owning sheep, and now I’m rather excited about it.

hey ducks, newsflash: you can SWIM

Will had a meeting tonight, so we didn’t round up the ducks until after 9.  And when we got to their yard, only one was there.  The other two were quacking across the pond.

I have no idea if there was another attempted attack, or if these two ducks decided to attempt swimming, lost their shit and ended up on the other side of the pond, or maybe they are just f-ing with us at this point.  Either way, we just attempted to herd ducks.  Maybe not the most successful enterprise of all time, but ultimately we managed to get everyone home safe… one Will caught, the other we chased across the pond (in that way that a duck can run-fly across a body of water) and then caught.

Hey ducks, guess what? YOU CAN SWIM.  I swear to God.  That’s sorta what you do.  So let’s try that next time, shall we?