While They Sleep

In the early morning hours, while the house is quiet and my four children are still snoring, I get up and pull on thick long underwear. Hearing my feet on the floor, the dogs start making soft whining noises in their crates. They know what’s coming.

The sun is not up yet. Sometimes we can hardly see where we are going. The sky is dusty and the ground is crunchy with frost. The goats are sleeping in the barn, the chickens are still in the coop, and the sparrows are just beginning to chirp. In these moments, I can feel the pulse of the Earth. I can feel how we are all connected.

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The dogs race to the field, then look at me expectantly. They’ve been waiting all night for this. It’s time to play fetch!

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They would chase the ball all day, if I let them. Most mornings I’ll throw for 15 minutes or so, and then we take our walk.

We cross the field to say hello & good morning to the old oak trees. At this time of year, the leaves carpet the ground and make a delightful swooshing sound as we walk through them. I often wonder about these trees. If they could talk, what stories would they tell? What have they been witness to all these years? How has the landscape changed?

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We walk the perimeter of the field closest to the house. The dogs race ahead, then race back to me at full speed. They tumble over each other, wrestle, and come back for pats and belly rubs. When we’ve finished our walk, they’re all panting and thirsty. They have a good, long drink while I take care of the farm chores.

The goats are awake now and have come out of the barn. They’re pacing by the gate, waiting for their breakfast. With this year’s shortage of hay, I was very lucky to find some bales from a nearby woman who had more than her horses needed.

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(See that handsome buck on the left? That’s Boots, our springtime babe, now full grown!)

The chickens have heard the goats’ happy bleats and have come running for their share.  They swarm around me, clucking and hopping, eager for their morning crumble & kitchen scraps.

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When everyone is fed and happy, I gather some eggs and head for the house. By now the sun hangs just above the horizon, and my kids are stirring in the family bed. The dogs and I make our way inside to welcome the children into the day. We snuggle and I listen to the kids tell me about their dreams, with sleepy eyes and creaky voices. They start their day softly, totally oblivious to the life I live while they sleep.

When Dreams Meet Reality

Two-and-a-half years ago, my family moved to this little farm with dream – to produce some food and work toward self-sufficiency.

Needless to say, it has been a bumpy ride. There has been a huge learning curve, both in the gardens and with our livestock. There have been deaths (goats and chickens don’t live forever!) and there have been successes. Our gardens have thrived at times and failed at times. Sometimes things flow smoothly and it feels great, and other times everything is a struggle and I wonder what the heck we are doing here.

I never thought this homesteading life would be easy, and I had no delusions of grandeur – just a simple dream and some determination. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always co-operate. I recently became a single mother, and had to make some tough decisions about how to go forward with this little farm.

When my husband made the decision to move out, I felt my dreams slipping away. How could I homestead by myself, with four very young children underfoot? It felt impossible.

Having my fourth baby strapped to my back while I go about my farm chores in frosty winds and stinging rains is less than ideal, so I’ve given up on milking our sweet goat, Daisy. She’s drying off, and our fridge is emptying as the steady stream of goat’s milk stops flowing. My first choice was to sell the goats and sheep, but my children put up such a (very loud) fuss when I raised the subject, that I changed my mind and figured out how to make it work to keep them here.

As my oldest son wailed about how much he loves Daisy & Dinosaur – how he raised them, how he fed Daisy her bottles (he calls himself her surrogate mother), how Dinosaur was our first goat born here – memories of the past two years filled my head. I saw my younger son, just starting to crawl, approaching baby Dinosaur in the lush grass of our front yard on a beautiful Summer’s day. I saw my older son with a huge grin on his face, snuggling baby Daisy on our living room couch as he fed her a bottle. I saw my daughter, shy and reserved, speaking sweetly to the little goat whose mama wouldn’t love her. I saw that I couldn’t give these animals away. Somewhere along the line, my dream became my children’s reality.

The next couple of years may not unfold how I had imagined they would – I’m reducing my flock of chickens to 8 laying hens, ditching the rabbit idea, and giving up goat milking, among other things – but I refuse to let my dreams die. Before I know it, I won’t have a little baby anymore. I’ll have four bigger kids, who won’t require such intense attention as they do now. I’ll have four sets of helping hands in the gardens, four sets of helping hands to milk the goats, four sets of helping hands to gather eggs. In a few years, we can dive back into homesteading with fervour.

For now, I’ll do what I can with what I have available and take what life brings. It may not be what I had originally dreamed of and I may not be self-sufficient, but sometimes reality ends up being better than a dream. I know I’ve got great things coming.

Morning Rituals

For most of my life, I was not a morning person. It was really, really hard for me to get my butt out of bed. But living on a farm means getting up each morning and getting right to it – there’s no time for easing slowly into the day! There are things that must to be done before breakfast is made, animals waiting to be fed, goats waiting to be milked, eggs needing to be collected. These days, I love mornings and the routines we start our days with. Take a peek at a morning on the farm!

A Day Outdoors

After two rainy days, the sun came out today and shone brilliantly all the day long. A perfect day for working outside! With everything that’s been going on around here the last few months, we’re horribly behind on our farm work. So, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze keeping us cool, the children and I spent the day getting things caught up.

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Lynden helped me prepare the onion bed for planting. Who would have thought rolling spikes along the ground could be so fun and exciting? Little clumps of grass became “monsters” that needed to be eliminated, with Lynden the Brave coming to the rescue.

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Robin carefully dropped each little onion-in-waiting into its hole in the ground. He took this task very seriously indeed, hollering at anyone who came near the bed.  Our little green thumb was totally delighted when I raked the soil over and tucked the onions in to grow.

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Later, when it was time to put the trowel and rake away, we discovered a broody hen in the garage! Well, well, well – a torn old bag for a nest! And in the corner of a damp, dark garage, to boot. What a silly lady! It looked like she was sitting on eight eggs or so. Now we wait. How many will she hatch?

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For a while I tried to get some pasture seed sown in the goat/sheep yard, but quickly realised it was an exercise in futility. The chickens gobbled up every seed they could find. Pasture seed is not inexpensive! The seeding of the goat/sheep yard is going to have to wait until the rest of the chickens are confined in the almost-finished chicken tractor (the finishing of which will have to take priority this weekend!).  I did get lots of peas in the ground, as well as a large bed of beans (this year we planted Cherokee Trail of Tears, Aunt Emma’s, and Cranberry). The chickens don’t dig up the legumes like they do with smaller seeds, thank goodness.

ImageThe goats and sheep got a new salt lick today. This wouldn’t be an event worth mentioning, if not for Day Lily’s reaction. Apparently this was something to be excited over – Day Lily pranced around like it was Christmas morning, and kept returning to the salt lick to have a little nibble. You’d think the silly gal had never had a salt lick before.

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While I worked in the garden, Robin followed me around with the leftover onion starters. He refused to believe that I didn’t need to plant another onion bed, and was pretty mad at me when I said “No, thank you,” as he attempted to put onions in the bean bed. He brought this bag of leftover onion starters into the house with him, and sat down to dinner with the bag still clutched in one hand. When he realised that it would be difficult to eat with only one hand free, Robin sat on the onion bag. Oddler got quite a surprise when he sniffed at the bag and received a whack on the nose!

ImageRaina quite adamantly did not want to help in the garden today, which is quite unusual for her. Instead, she took her shirt off and ran through the fields, then spent much of her afternoon swinging and climbing. She scaled a tree, then cried for me to help her get down. She spun herself silly on the tire swing. She found a muddy place and squished her feet in, getting nice and dirty. I think it’s safe to say that Raina enjoyed her day.

So, while we’re still behind in the garden department, I did get onions, peas and beans into the ground. I got several beds weeded and ready for planting. And while it’s not as much as I would have liked, I have to remind myself that I did all of this with a month-old baby slung on the front of me and had to accommodate for several nursing breaks throughout the day. I’ll count this day as a success, however small my accomplishments.

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The Swing of Things

My recent pregnancy and birth took a lot more out of me than I anticipated it would, and Jae has shouldered the vast majority of the farm work for many months now.  Today I woke feeling much more like my normal old self than I have in a long time. The sun was shining, the breeze was warm, and I really wanted to get back into the swing of taking care of this little farm.  After getting appointments (for mama and baby), speech therapy (for Raina) and grocery shopping out of the way, the kidlets and I spent our evening out in the yard, getting things back in order.

ImageLynden and Raina had picked out some bird houses from the dollar store a little while back, and today we finally found some places for them. (This one is sitting on a slab of concrete that protrudes from the tree – the tree actually grew around the concrete over the years and engulfed almost half of it!) It puts a smile on my face to see these cute little bird houses nestled in our trees. Whether the birds make use of them or not, they sure look sweet, and the kids were so excited to put them out there.

ImageGaia spent some time swinging in the shade of an old maple tree, which was just fine by her. She gazed around the yard, watched shadows dance on the blanket next to her face, and stared for a good long while at her brothers & sister playing nearby. Indoors, Gaia doesn’t usually want to spend time in her swing, but out in the yard it was another story altogether. I enjoyed having my body to myself for a little while!

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Dinosaur and the sheep were tethered in the front yard for a while to graze down the grass that is already becoming pretty darned long! They seemed to enjoy the fresh greenery and the shade of the maple. Dinosaur’s winter coat is shedding out, and she’s pretty patchy looking these days. I really ought to shave her, but the memory of Daisy’s recent shaving and all of the tiny bits of goat hair that stuck to me for days is a bit of a deterrent.

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Because the gardens were put to sleep for the winter and it wasn’t necessary to keep chickens out, our chicken tractor was out of use. Now that we’re almost ready to start putting some things in the ground, it’s time to confine the chickens. They can tear up a garden pretty fast! Jae and I filled the top of the tractor with fresh straw and moved it to a shady, thickly grassed area. The tractor doesn’t have wheels yet, so moving it is quite the labour-intensive task. That thing is heavy! We put six birds in for the time being. A second tractor is in the works, almost finished and soon to be filled.

I got a lot of debris raked up around the yard – twigs, branches, stray bits of straw, chicken poop – and we had a roaring fire going. The kids sat around on their little chairs, making plans for camping this Summer and having sleepovers. I managed to nearly fill the compster with chicken waste, which I’m sure the gardens will love in a few months’ time.

It was an unremarkable evening, much like other Spring evenings past, but it felt superb to be outside & working again. I haven’t moved my body this much in many months, and my limbs & back were rejoicing to be bending and lifting and working again. Physical activity sure does feel good.

Spring on the Farm

The weather has been incredible around here for the last several weeks and life is springing forth on the farm.

ImageThe chickens have been going crazy with the laying and we have more eggs than we know what to do with. Pickled eggs, scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, eggs over easy, omelets, casseroles, fritatas, eggs florentine, eggs for baking with… after eating eggs every day, there are still six dozen in the fridge!

 

ImageJeremy and Platypus are pretty thrilled with the sunshine and warm weather, and have been happily quacking about. Platypus has generously donated a few dozen duck eggs for our breakfasts over the last several weeks.

 

ImageDay Lily and Sunflower are pretty darned shaggy. Next month I will try my hand at shearing them (aside from my one attempt at shearing with fabric scissors, I am totally inexperienced in this department). Perhaps soon I will get to washing, carding and spinning the several bags of fleece that are hiding out in my mudroom. I need to find a good project for Sunflower’s lovely fleece.

 

ImageDaisy and Dinosaur are becoming quite large in the middle. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their kids, and the return of goat’s milk! (Since several of you have asked, Daisy – on the left – is an Alpine doe. Dinosaur – on the right – is a Toggenburg/Saanen cross.)

 

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Oddler is growing whiter with age, losing his hearing, and developing cataracts, but he is still filled with youthful energy and can outrun our sprightly Beagle puppy, Echo. Last week, Oddler taught Echo how to tree a raccoon and chased a coyote out of the yard in the dark of the night. Not bad for an old boy!

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Lynden has caught all manner of small creatures: frogs, toads, snakes. Last Spring and Summer, we had a hard time with Lynden wanting to keep all the creatures he had captured. He just didn’t understand that we have to leave Mother Nature’s children in peace where they belong. Now, he’s come a long way – he keeps each captured creature for one night only, and the next morning releases them where he found them. Progress!

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There’s been lots and lots of bike riding around here lately. Our very long driveway is perfect for this beloved activity, and the kids have been out there every chance they get.

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ImageGaia is wonderful and beautiful, and charming us all. Her older siblings grow deeper in love with her with every passing day. I am amazed by her – so calm, so peaceful, so content. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard her cry since her birth. Gaia is the brightest blessing and I am filled with gratitude at being her mother. How did I get so lucky FOUR TIMES!?

Yessir, Spring has definitely arrived. It’s my favourite time of year, when everything is bursting with the freshness and newness of life, renewed.

Chicken Dinner

You may recall that some time ago, our long-time vegetarian family made the decision to eat some of our chickens. We love our birds, and are so grateful for the eggs they provide our family, but the truth is that sometimes some of the birds have to go. It’s not possible to maintain a closed-loop system without eliminating some of your animals from time to time, and after a lot of discussion we concluded that it would be easier on our consciences to slaughter our chickens here at home as humanely as possible than to sell them and have no idea what their fates would be.

I will admit it was hard for me to come to terms with slaughtering our chickens, at first. Equally hard to come to terms with was how much I loved that first chicken dinner we had. I was not expecting to enjoy chicken so much! Now that chicken has become a somewhat regular part of our diet, I decided it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughtering process, to take responsibility for the birds I raised and the food on my plate. Until now, Jae has done the “dirty work” without me, often with a friend lending a hand. This was weighing heavily on my conscience.

So, with rations dwindling in the kitchen and a rather tight budget for the week, it became apparent that it was time for another chicken dinner – and it was time for me to help Jae with the slaughter.

When I first stepped outside and saw the chosen hen sitting calmly on the porch, I nearly lost my nerve. A panicky feeling settled in on me and I thought, “I can’t do this! I’ll have to go back to being veg!” I took a deep breath and held the chicken in my arms. She looked at me, calm as can be, and I stroked her feathers. I thanked her for the eggs she’s given, spoke words of gratitude to her, and as I looked into her eyes I felt myself calming down. The hen wasn’t panicking, why was I?

I held the hen out in front of me, her head resting lightly on the chopping block. Still she was calm; I could feel her heart beating steadily, not racing, not alarmed. A split second later, Jae’s axe came down on her neck and it was done. No squawking, no panic, no distress. Just a calm bird who was with us one moment and gone the next.

Jae told me he’d be alright to finish the job if I felt I needed to go back into the house, but I wanted to see the whole process through from start to finish. I was surprised by how very OK I felt about what had just happened (truthfully, I had thought I’d be a mess of tears). It felt good to take responsibility for my dinner, and I was so relieved to see first-hand that the hen had not had one moment of distress or suffering.

So now I know how to slaughter, clean, gut and butcher a chicken – and if you have the stomach for it, you can see the process for yourself.  If you’re a staunch vegetarian or someone who hasn’t faced the reality of what it means to eat animals, you might want to skip past the following photos.

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