Got Milk? We Do!

Over the weekend we started milking our goats for the first time. They kidded (had babies) around Easter and, while we could have started milking sooner, we kept putting it off. We bought the goats over a year ago, had them bred seven months ago, and went through all the stress of kidding (well, I guess the mamas and babies shared some of that stress with us). But after all that, it was still a big mental jump for me to start milking.

Why you might ask? Well, once you start handmilking three goats every day, it is a little harder to find someone to “farmsit” for you. Handmilking goats (or even cows) isn’t a skill most people have and it isn’t something easy to teach like filling a hay feeder or letting animals out into the pasture. So when we started milking we became tied to the homestead in a whole new, harder-to-take-a-vacation-from way. Hence the dragging of the feet until I remembered that I DID really want to do this and I had better get a move-on because once we sell the kids (goat kids, not human kids) in a few weeks, the mama’s milk will dry up if we aren’t doing our job.

So, like so many other things we’ve done since we moved here, we read a little, googled a little and then just did it.

Handmilking our dairy goat

And guess what – it wasn’t that bad! I mean, the first time was pretty funny, what with milk squirting this way and that, annoyed goats jumping around, and the crazy uncoordinated squeezing attempts by Josh and I. And the very last goat we milked stepped into her pail, knocking half of it over and contaminating the rest. So no milk for us that time but the pigs sure enjoyed it!

The next day it was definitely easier and today was even easier, taking us about 45 minutes to milk and strain all three goats. Better yet, it tastes just like cow’s milk! I mean, I knew it SHOULD given the way we are doing things (no bucks on the homestead, cooling the milk quickly, etc) but until we took that first sip we just weren’t sure. I had images of trying to dunk cookies in milk that tasted like goat cheese. Oh the horror!

I think I’m starting to get down the whole “as soon as the goat moves it’s leg, yank the pail away cuz she’s annoyed and about to step in the milk” thing down. Now I just have to practice my aim so I can give some milk to the barn cats straight from the source…

PS: Thanks to Jill at the The Prairie Homestead for her Goat 101 series and Fias Co Farm for being awesome goat and milking resources.

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Homemade Chicken Waterer – Modified

Remember last summer when I posted our homemade chicken waterer using a 5 gallon bucket and a flower pot base? Well, the other day someone blogged about a modified Creating a homemade chicken waterer from a 5 gallon bucket and plant baseversion they made to hang in their chicken coop. It looks pretty cool!

I think we will be trying this for this year’s Chicken Nuggets (and possibly the blogger’s other design for a chicken feeder). Normally we just plop the waterer on the ground inside the electric netting. The chickens promptly drink and then poop in it. Nice.

So after reading about the modified version, Josh’s mind started whirling. (I swear, I think I saw smoke…) Since we don’t have anything out in the fields to hang a waterer from, he is envisioning a tripod with the waterer hanging down from the middle.  It would be similar to a camera tripod or one you use to cook over an open fire but maybe made out of wood so it would be sturdier.

I guess we’ll just have to see what he comes up with!

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Babies and Queens

Babies!! And Queens! We have babies and queens!!

No, not human babies. These babies didn’t cause me a one little flicker of pain. Well, no pain but I did lose some sleep and added a few gray hairs because of them. But they are cute and cuddly and little balls of squishyness so I forgive them. But the Bad Queen, well, she’s not someone I can forgive. The Good Queen has happy, faithful subjects. The Bad Queen is about to be overthrown, by both her subjects and the controller of her universe (aka: me.).

But before that tale of trouble, the babies!!! The cuties!!! The bouncing balls of energy!!!

The first babies born on our farm arrived bright and early on Easter morning! Our ewe, Molly, had a beautiful set of twins: a pure black male and a pure white female. They each got “Eastery” names: Eggbert and Esther. The next morning Alice gave birth to a single pure white male, which the kids dubbed Francis. (We tried to breed a third ewe but it doesn’t seem like she “took” so I think our lambing days are done for the year.) We are keeping the female but the two males will hang around until fall when they will be introduced to my freezer.

Newborn lambs

Eggbert (black) and Esther (white)

And we’ve got goat babies! Our three goats each gave birth to twins, which tripled our herd We have two males (Hermes and Tyler) and four female kids (Hera, April, Holly and Polly). One set of twins (Holly and Polly) are identical which is pretty cool. And they all are so adorable. All the mamas did a fantastic job bringing the babies into the world. The oldest twins are almost 3 weeks while the youngest set is only one week. We only need the mamas for milking so the kids will be going to the farm where we originally bought our goats once they are weaned. I know when the day arrives we’ll be sad but at least we can go visit if we ever want to. We’re hoping to start milking sometime within the next week or so.

Newborn Goat Kid

Penelope with daughter April just minutes after she is born

Newborn Goat Kid

Meet Hera! What, don't you name your goats after Greek Gods?

Identical newborn goat kids

The identical twin girls, Holly and Polly. Don't ask me which is which!

Goat kid playing on a slide

Playing on the slide

Human kids and goat kids playing

Human kids + goat kids = FUN!!!

Almost two weeks ago, we picked up 85 one-day-old Freedom Ranger meat chickens. At our house, meat chickens are called “The Chicken Nuggets”. Yep, we even call them that to their beaks. They are currently in their brooder in our garage. We’re hoping to move them outside into the chicken run tomorrow. Josh built a little hover box to hang in their outdoor pen to provide them with heat if they get too cold. I’m debating bringing them back inside at night until we hit the warmer overnight temperatures forecast for later this week but just the thought of corralling 85 Chicken Nuggets running wild makes me tired. (Sorry, no chickie pictures. Last year they were cute so I took a ton of photos. This year, they are food-to-be. My how times change…)

Our four week old free range pasture meat chickens that live in a chicken tractor

A photo from last year's Chicken Nuggets. Imagine the kid taller, otherwise they look the same.

And now, for the news of the Queens!

Queen bees, that is.

The bees enjoyed the wonderfully mild winter and are growing like crazy! In fact, one hive is getting ready to swarm already. (When they get too crowded, they start growing a queen egg. Right before the queen egg hatches, the old queen takes half the hive and heads for the hills. Actually, they usually head for the nearest tree for a day or two and they vanish to parts unknown.) This is the hive the Good Queen. Her house – er – hive is in order, her subjects adore her and all is well. So tomorrow (hopefully) we’re going to split that big hive into two littler hives. She will remain in one hive and her daughter will rule the other.

A frame with Italian Honey Bees

Bees doin' their thang

Our other hive, which has always been weaker, is doing okay as well but the queen (hereafter to be known as the Bad Queen) isn’t doing the best. The Bad Queen doesn’t lay her eggs in a uniform fashion (not like the photo above) and she doesn’t keep the other bees acting in the appropriate manner. We think the other bees have noticed because we see a queen eggs being grown in this hive as well. (When the queen starts to fail or isn’t up to par, the bees decide to make a new replacement queen. The reigning queen has no say in the matter and if she tries to interfere, they will actually kill her. They take their queens very seriously.) So, since any new baby queen would be the daughter of the “so-so” queen, we decided to buy a new queen in hopes that she will be better than the daughter. Tomorrow we will find the Bad Queen, squish her and put the new, hopefully better, queen into the hive. Or so the plan goes. Have you ever tried to find one specific bee in a hive full of 30,000ish other squirming, moving, almost identical bees? Um, not so easy. Keep your fingers crossed that it goes well and the reign of the Bad Queen comes to an end.

We aren’t all just babies and queens around the homestead but those are the things on my mind right now. There are tons of other things going on – vegetables started indoors, fences being put up, wood being cut and split, kids almost finished homeschooling for the year (woohoo!), and about 1,000 other things. Some days I feel like I’m in control and doing just fine. Other days I wonder how in the world all this stuff will get done. But somehow all the important things will get done and the unimportant ones don’t matter that much anyway.

Wood house

Firewood - cut, split and stacked into this beautiful yard ornament

All in all, it has been a great spring. Hopefully things are going great in your neck of the woods too.

Goodnight all!

Wisconsin Spring Sunset

A beautiful Wisconsin sunset taken by my equally beautiful daughter

Posted in Bees, Chickens, Gardening, Goats, Homesteading, Sheep, Spring | 5 Comments

Forever and A Day – A List

It feels like forever and a day since I’ve last posted. So here’s a quick rundown on what’s happening around the homestead.

1) Fin has a new home. He attacked a chicken, a cat and snapped at the sheep. He enjoyed hunting waaayyyy more than herding so we found him a great home with less temptation. Plus the family has a Jack Russell Terrier so they know a little something about dogs and their prey. We’ve exchanged emails with them and he seems to have settled in nicely. The kiddos weren’t happy but, after the cat was badly hurt (but thank goodness not killed), they understood.

2) We just ordered 85 meat chickens. Last year we had 50 and right now our freezer is almost chicken-less so we upped it by 25. Plus my dad wants the kiddos to raise him another 10. The chicken tractor we built last year only houses 50 so we’ll need to build a second one. Watch out innocent drivers – the minivan will be covered in hog panels again!

3) We’re pasturing three pigs this summer. We just ordered three Tamworth pigs to arrive sometime in May. They come from a pasture-based farm so we’re hoping it goes well. Two pigs for us, one for my parents (to be raised by the kids). We may even advertise to see if anyone would be interested in buying a half or whole pig that we would raise as an extra. Last year we really enjoyed the piggies so I’m excited to have them again. Plus our bacon supply is getting low and, as my 9 year old says, I heart bacon.

4) Bees have been ordered. We decided to order a nuc of bees in case one of our hives didn’t make it (although they are both looking good – woohoo!). A nuc is different from the packages we got last year. A package is a group of bees with a queen that comes in a wooden box. You dump them into your empty hive. Our package came from California. A nuc is basically a small hive. It is a few frames with a group of bees and a queen. The frames already have “bee food” so the bees can jump right in to having babies instead of first collecting food. Plus the nuc is coming from a guy up the road a bit so it will be a Wisconsin hive that we know can withstand a Wisconsin winter. All good things in my book.

5) Onions and peppers are being started inside. I LOVE planting the first seeds of the year! And we’re getting together a final list of what we’re growing this year. Fun stuff to think about while the snow flies.

6) Sheep and goats are getting close to having babies! And the goats are getting, to put it nicely, a little round. The sheep still aren’t showing but I’m told that is common. This month we are going to put together some lambing and kidding kits for when the big day gets here sometime in the beginning of April. And, as prep work, we’re going to be shearing the sheep the last weekend of February. Josh took a class and bought the shears so I’m hoping it goes well.

7) For my birthday, I got worms. Not as bad as it sounds – they’re composting worms. Actually, I got the worm house and the worms are in the mail as I type. (This is the house Josh bought for me – he sure knows the way to my heart!) The house will be placed in the kitchen and we’ll feed them food scrapes, paper, card board, etc. that they will turn into lovely worm poop and a compost tea. These will be used in the garden as compost/fertilizer. And when our worms multiply enough, the chickens will have a yummy little treat! And no, there is no way that the worms can escape their home – I made sure of this already!

8) February is dubbed “The Month Of The Wood”. When we bought our homestead, the people had relatives that owned a tree service. Apparently he brought them lots of long, huge logs that they decided to just leave lying in the fields. Our job has been to cut it into firewood lengths, split it all and then stack it to let it dry properly before next winter. So far we’re done about a cord (which is a pile of wood stacked 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall). We probably have another cord or so of this soft wood to go. In addition to that, we’ve ordered 11, yep, ELEVEN, more cords of hard wood (which burns more steady than soft wood). It comes in eight foot long logs that we then have to cut, split and stack for drying. Oh, and once everything is dry (or seasoned) this fall, we have to move all 12-13 cords into the sheltered area to stay dry. Fun times, huh? The good news is that this is 2 years worth of wood so we won’t have to do this again next year. Plus, this uncut, unseasoned wood is $90 a cord, whereas buying split, seasoned wood from someone else is about $200 a cord. I’d say it’s worth the achy muscles!

9) The laying hens are going crazy with eggs! Anyone local want to buy some free-range, organically-fed eggs from some really happy chickens? Or even fertilized eggs since we have 5 roosters? My kids would love you forever since eggs have been on the menu at least once a day for a few months now. Or, if anyone wants a Barred Rock rooster or two or three or even four, come on over – they’re free!

10) I’ve started dabbling in soap making, herbal remedies and tinctures and essential oils. My family is a little nervous at being my guinea pigs…

And that’s it. Well, actually there are a million and one more things but those are the most interesting. Hope things are going well in your neck of the woods! And if you have any advice or ideas about our new adventures or want eggs or pork, let me know.

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Posted in Bees, Chickens, Gardening, Goats, Homesteading, Pigs, Sheep | 6 Comments

DIY Candy Board for Bees

Normally bees eat the honey they have made and stored in their hives during the summer but if they don’t have enough honey to last until spring, you can supplement with a candy or sugar board. You can buy them (about $20) or you can make them yourself. Here’s how we did it for only the cost of the sugar.

Frame Materials:

1/2″ hardware cloth

scrap lumber – we used a 1×6 that we cut in half to make two 1x3s

poultry staples

screws

Candy materials

8 pounds of sugar

1.5 cups of water

1/2 (read: half) tablespoon of vinegar (white or apple cider)

winter pollen patty (optional)

To build the frame:

1. First you need to measure the length and width of your hive. Now cut two pieces of wood for the length of your hive body long and two other pieces at the right width. Cut them with a 45 degree angle at the ends. The angled ends aren’t totally required (you could just leave them straight) but the angles help the box fit together more tightly.

Building a bee candy board

2. Using screws, attach the boards to form a box. But be warned: using knit gloves to while doing so can lead to unintended consequences:

Building a bee candy board

3. Time to add an entrance/exit hole. Find the center of one of the shorter boards (the front and back pieces). With a 5/8 inch drill bit, make the hole near the bottom of the board. (When placed on the hive, this hole will sit just peeking out from the telescoping lid so that is why you want it placed towards the bottom of the board and not centered.)

Building a bee candy board

4. Now for a bit of “do as I say, not as I do”. We cut the hardware cloth to the exact size of the box with about an inch extra. We then used poultry staples to attach the cloth to the box. This is NOT what we will do when we build more of these. Why not? Because the staples and hardware cloth don’t let it sit snug against the hive body when we put them on the hive.

Building a bee candy boardInstead of doing it this way, next time we will cut the hardware cloth a few inches bigger and fold it up into the box. Then we’ll staple it to the inside of the box which will allow the wooden frame to sit flush onto the hive. So, do as I say, not as I did.

Oh, and make sure you attach the hardware cloth so that the entrance/exit hole is closest to the cloth. Otherwise it will sit under the telescoping lid and the bees won’t be able to use it.

And that’s it. The frame is built. In all, it took about an hour to build two boxes but that included cutting a 1×6 down into two 1x3s since that is what we had laying around.

To make the candy:

1. First line your frame with newspaper. Some people also use wax paper but since I can get extra newspaper for free from the recycling center that’s what we used. Only one layer of newspaper is needed since the bees will eat through it to get to the sugar.

Building a bee candy board2. Add 1/2 (half) tablespoon  of vinegar to 1.5 cups of water. The vinegar helps prevent mold. Add the water/vinegar solution to 8 pounds of granulated sugar. Mix well. The sugar will become moist and lumpy but not soaking wet.

Building a bee candy board3. Now, this step is entirely optional and can only be completed it your bowl is shiny. But I highly recommend it since it makes your sugar sweeter. Okay here it is: Spend about 5 minutes making funny monkey faces at yourself while laughing hysterically.

Building a bee candy boardAgain, this step is not required but is recommended.

4. Plop the mixture into the frame and smooth it around. Leave some space around the entrance/exit hole so that the bees have room to come and go.

Building a bee candy board5. We decided to include a winter pollen patty for them as another food source. Using a glass bowl, I made a hole to put the pollen patty into. Someone used a piece of a 2×4 board to do this, other people just pushed the sugar out of the way with a spatula. Whatever works for you.

Building a bee candy board6. If you’re using a pollen patty, put it into your candy board. Our patties were pretty big so we cut one in half and put it in the newly created space for it. (We got our patties from a local bee supply store called Dadant & Sons.)

Building a bee candy board

Building a bee candy board

And now you have a sugar board! You don’t have to wait until the sugar hardens to put it into the hive; it’s ready to go now.

Placing the candy board:

1. To place the board, remove the hive lid and inner cover. In this photo, you can see the bees eating the pollen patty we put in the hive a few weeks ago. This is the weaker of our two hives and the fact that they are at the top of the hive already isn’t a great sign. We’re hoping the candy board and pollen patties give them all the extra food they need.

Adding a winter pollen patty to the bee hive2. Place the candy board onto the hive with the hole in the front. Then place the inner cover back on.

Adding a candy board to a bee hive3. Finally replace the outer cover. See how the candy board hole peeks out from under the lid to make an upper entrance/exit for the bees?

Adding a candy board to the bee hive

And now you’re all done! I am by no means even close to someone who know anything about what she is doing. But if you have any questions, feel free to ask and I’ll try to help.

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Posted in Bees, Frugal | 5 Comments