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.

Swinging into Summer

“Swinging” into Summer is hardly accurate. It feels more like we’re on a speeding train and Summer is a brick wall directly ahead of us! The days are passing way faster than I care for (but isn’t that always how it goes?). Life is bursting forth everywhere I turn, the baby is growing way too quickly, and my older children are more incredible with each passing day.

Summer on the farm is such a busy, hectic time. There are so many demands! At the end of the day, though, it’s all worth it, and there are an abundance of little rewards.

The chicks, who one month ago looked like this –

- now reside outside and look like this -
How quickly they change!

The rabbits are thriving on grass. They’ve escaped a couple of times, and so we’ve been playing around with various modifications to the rabbit tractor to prevent escape but still allow for grass-eating. (Stay tuned for an update on our rabbits!)

The farmers’ market opened on June 9th, and I was so happy to be back! We had a fabulous opening day, with way more sales than we anticipated and lots of folks from last year stopping by to say hello. The feelings of community and camaraderie that come out at the farmers’ market are so uplifting.

Here’s my market partner – her name is Juno. She’s a 12-week-old Border Collie, and absolutely fabulous!

We’ve also had a few births around this little farm over the past month -


Dinosaur finally birthed her kid, a beautiful little buckling whose name is Boots.


Platypus the duck went broody and sat on a rather large nest of eggs. Eight of them hatched last week, much to the delight of my children.

Yes, Summer is a busy time on this farm: chicks, bunnies, goat kids, ducklings, puppies, gardens, children…….. I feel as though I’m busy and working my butt off nearly every moment of the day. It’s good work, though, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Escape!

Oh, goats. They are such lovely creatures! Daisy is currently giving us more milk than we know what to do with, and she is quite the sweetie.

However, everyone knows that goats are escape artists. Ours are no exception! I’m getting rather tired of goats in my garden (twice now I’ve had to replant beans and tomatoes!) and I sure don’t feel great about them getting into the neighbouring GMO soy field.

Today we set up a portable electric fencing system so that we could move the goats around various parts of the yard. The idea was that they’d munch down the grass & weeds, and then we’d move them on to the next spot. It was a lovely idea and perfect in theory, until we attempted to put it into practice.

On this wonderful first day of Summer, in blistering heat and searing sun, Jae and I pounded a copper grounding rod 6 feet into the ground – no small feat! We set up all the fence posts, strung the wire, turned on the fully-charged solar fence energizer, and placed the goats inside their new pen.

In less than one minute, they were out. They received a big zap – we saw the sparks – paused for half a moment, and then they barreled right on through as though the wire was not even there.

Goats:1, Solar fence:0

I hollered after the goats and declared that I was sick enough of them in my garden that I’d be happy to get rid of them altogether. Lynden started crying, “Please don’t get rid of my goats, I love those guys, please let me keep them!” and Raina joined in with a high-pitched wail.

So now Jae is returning the expensive solar electric fencing system to the TSC and reinforcing the fence around the goat yard, where those stubborn beasts are supposed to be contained. And the lush, overgrown lawn? Well, I think we’ll finally give in & purchase a lawnmower, and feed the goats the clippings.

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!

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.

Freshening

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We’ve been anxiously awaiting the birth of this year’s goat kids. This evening, we arrived home to discover the Daisy had JUST given birth – to a stillborn kid. Oh, how our hearts broke. The tiny little kid was laying there in the corner of the barn, fresh and new and looking perfect, but not a breath of life in it. My children were so very disappointed and sad.

For her part, Daisy seems just fine. She passed the placenta with no problem, and soon after resumed eating and drinking as though nothing had happened. She doesn’t show any signs of distress, which is a relief and a blessing. Daisy, being bottle-raised by our children, holds a very special place in our hearts. It was getting to be pretty dark by the time we got things settled and we needed to call it a night, so in the earliest hours of the morning she will be milked for the first time.

Dinosaur is still quite pregnant and round. Lynden is hoping that she kids twins so that he and Raina will each have a baby goat to love.  He shed quite a few tears tonight over the poor little stillborn.

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.

Spring Has Sprung

Yesterday was a beautiful, sunny, warm and bright March day – a perfect day for Spring Equinox, and a perfect day for being outside.

The goats and sheep have REALLY been enjoying the fresh, young grass that is coming up all over the yard. They’ve spent the past few days grazing in front of the house, while Oddler seems to have made it his personal duty to keep an eye on them as he lazes in the sun.

Aren’t they so delightfully shaggy with their winter coats on? These ladies will soon be first-time mamas. I wonder who will give birth first, me or them?

We took advantage of the beautiful weather and spent the day together as a family at our local conservation area. The place was humming and buzzing with life! It was a noisy symphony of croaks and birdsong, chattering squirrels, honking geese, insects and more. What a glorious treat for the ears!

We were able to get very close to a pair of swans, who looked at us calmly and went about feeding on the bottom of the creek. The kids watched the swans for some time, then realised that there were bullfrogs croaking very loudly right behind them!

Lynden spotted dozens of very large – HUGE! – frogs sunbathing along the water’s edge. We photographed at least 14 of them within the span of a few feet. For a boy who loves amphibians almost as much as he loves dinosaurs, this was extremely exciting.

This is Echo’s first Spring, and her first time really experiencing the wonders of the wild world. She was as excited about the frogs as Lynden was, and tried repeatedly to catch one. Of course, before she got anywhere near close enough to grab a frog, every last one had jumped far out of reach into the water (which only served to make Echo even more excited!).

Frogs were not the only exciting creatures to be found. Lynden discovered many snakes along the way, some at the water’s edge who were obviously after the frogs, and some in sunny spots along the edge of the trail. Imagine his delight when he quietly approached a sun-bathing garter snake and got close enough to stroke his fingers down its back before it slid away!

We came across a tree growing some lovely fungi on its trunk, and the children decided that this must be a gnome’s ladder – perfect for a wee person to climb.

Indeed, it was a perfect day, a perfect Spring Equinox. We all felt so free, being outside without coats, without leggings, without hats & gloves. My heart soared as I watched my children run amongst the trees, laughing and discovering, slowing down to marvel over little miracles of Nature.

Somehow I didn’t end up with any photos of Robin, who is old enough this year to run and discover with the bigger kids, and to whom everything is so very fresh and new, never before experienced. He was totally amazed by everything he came across, and marched along with such purpose and pride. It was a joy to watch him, blossoming into a big kid.

Happy Spring to you, my dear readers. I hope you are enjoying your days as thoroughly as we are, for life is so very beautiful.

Goat Stew

The other day, our billy goat (“Billy”, aptly enough) passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Not wanting to let a perfectly good goat go to waste, Jae decided he’d take the opportunity to learn how to butcher a fairly large animal. Billy was hung up in the garage and Jae got to work, coming out on the other side with a good 20lbs or more of great-looking meat.

Now, everything I have read has said that an intact (not neutered, that is) billy goat will give meat that has an unpleasant “billy goat” taste to it. If you’ve ever smelled a billy goat, you know how putrid they are, and apparently this aroma carries over into the flavour of the meat. After Jae’s butchering job, I figured Billy would be fed to the dogs.

Jae had other plans. He got online and found a recipe for goat stew, then spent last evening in the kitchen. When he placed the steaming pot of stew in the centre of the dinner table, I served myself a bowl and took a big bite before I could think twice about it.

Oh, dear readers, I cannot tell you how disgusting the stew was. It had potential, to be sure, but the aroma of Billy certainly did lend flavour to the meat – a flavour I would have been happy to go my whole life without ever tasting. My stomach heaves even now, just at the thought of it.

Jae tried to be stoic and brave. He tried to choke down his stew. Alas, the taste of Billy overwhelmed him quickly, and he agreed that the rest of the meat was fit for the dogs. I spent a while taking the remaining chunks of meat out of the stew to toss to the dogs for dinner, and the rest of the pot was added to the compost pile.

I suppose when every goat source you have at your disposal warns against the nasty flavour of billy goat meat, it might be wise to take heed. Live and learn!