Friday, February 28, 2014

Setbacks: A Part of Life and a Time for Growth

I experienced a pretty big setback milking Bridget today. She would NOT behave. Like, at all.

First, the girl refused to budge from her paddock. I had to drag and drive her the whole way. I finally got her to my make-shift hand-milking station, and she refused to stay still. She moved forwards, then backwards, then sideways, then forwards, and so on. I barely got any milk out of her. She paused for maybe a minute to munch some hay, then starting throwing her little tantrum again.

So, I brought her back to the paddock (with all kinds of pulling, prodding, and poking) and took care of some other chores for about 15 minutes. I tried again from the top. Same story.

I put her (most unwillingly) back in the paddock again. Then I did some more chores until I was just about done.I tried one last time. She stood a bit more still, but wouldn't let down. I got her to stand still for about 5 minutes, but she dried herself up completely. Since Tuesday's haul of our first milk, this was our worst milk day. By a lot.

Wife told me that Bridget won. I knew it, but I didn't want to admit it. But Wife is always right.

Bridget and Brisket the Jersey cows
Misbehaved and still got her calf back. Yup. I lost today.

She's certainly gotten used to our little routine of me milking for a bit, then her being reunited to her baby for him to clear her out. She's humoring me at best, and battling wills (and winning) at worst.

So yes - big setback this morning.

As I stewed at my desk for a few hours, I came to gradually realize that this is an opportunity for personal growth. Our priest this past week said that we should thank God when there is a person who drives us absolutely nuts in our lives, as that person will help make us holy. He even talked about how St. Benedict encouraged abbots to find such a person, one who drove the entire monastic community batty, specifically to make the community holier.

Bridget must be sanctifying me like gangbusters right now. I guess St. Brigid of Kildare is really praying for me.

So, this setback is definitely an opportunity to grow. I can grow in patience, grow in perseverance, grow in discipline, and grow in general holiness through adversity. This will be a good thing for me. I need to redouble my efforts in training her, evaluate myself critically at what I can do better, and take action.

This a really good thing, because I think in all the bovine craziness that's swept the homestead, I've forgotten my main goals for the year:

Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. –Matthew 6:33

Ultimately, Bridget will need to be trained to a new routine, and in just over a week's time, Brisket will be weaned cold-turkey. Until that happens, I need to reassert myself as "alpha" while at the same time not losing sight of the target.

And for me, the target is growing holier while and through homesteading.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hand Milking

As Bridget Da'Cow and I get to know each other, part of our journey is learning the hand-milking process. We've been very much enjoying our first tastes of fresh, raw milk. Wife is making paleo chocolate sauce to go with it. The chocolate milk is outstanding.

So, with that, I though I'd share how I milk her.

Hand milking my Jersey cow in my backyard.
Bridget, with fresh hay, ready to be milked.
I set in a T-post near the shed, behind the sheep winter pen. I use Colt's leash to hook to Bridget's halter (I guess it's now the cow's leash (and that's #834 of the things I never thought I'd say when I was younger)) to the T-post. She has a pile of hay to munch, and I have a ladybug stool and a stainless steel milk pail.

UPDATE 3/20/14: Since this article, I've built a stanchion for hand milking on the other side of the shed, and have fully weaning Brisket.

Once I coax her over there (she's not the most willing follower quite yet), it's time to milk.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Discipline is the Key to Homeschool Success

Persevere under discipline. God dealeth with you as with his sons; for what son is there, whom the father doth not correct? -Hebrews 12:7

He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes.  -Proverbs 13:24

The parental control on the TV is not for the kids. The parental control is for the parents! -Caribbean Priest (2005)

The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry. -Robert Burns (1785)

Homeschool poetry memorization
Thing #2 working on memorizing Psalm 11. It has bows and arrows in it.
Wife and I were discussing our new homeschool curriculum earlier this afternoon. We had planned to do so much - map work, journaling on different virtues, big history projects, art lessons, music lessons, Latin, poetry, scientific exploration, and so on, on top of the 4 R's - reading, writing, 'rithmetic, and religion.

Well, despite the curriculum's early success (which in retrospect may have due to the initial excitement), things are not going as swimmingly as we would like. We have great success getting through the morning - we have lists, we have a routine, we have the most important and foundational subjects up first, and we have the energy of a new day. It goes great. There is discipline. There are clear expectations. There are consequences for failure to execute. Incorrect work is corrected. Correct work is praised for the good effort.

They finish up by lunch, and much gets accomplished.

Then we take a break, and it all goes downhill.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

First Milk

Oh how I LOVE having a milk cow!

Fresh, raw milk from our own backyard Jersey milk cow.
Just over two liters of milk this morning. With NO bucket kicks!
Bridget Da'Cow and I are getting out milking routine down. It's taking a while for everyone to settle, so I expected a bit of an uphill climb. That's compounded by the fact that I've never milked anything before, so I am learning the technique while she is learning, well, everything that goes on here.

Monday, February 24, 2014

More About Bridget Da'Cow

Bridget, our new family milk cow, is a sweetie pie.

Bridget looking at the camera. Brisket nursing.
Her full name is Bridget Da'Cow. Wife and I wanted to honor our Saint-o-the-Year, St. Brigid of Kildare. Plus, the 7-letter/5-letter combo fits with our family's naming scheme. Some people do all "J" names, or everyone ends in "Y," or something like that. We do it numerically.

She's really sweet, and everyone in the family has grown to love her instantly.

Goodbye, Samson

To make room for Bridget and Brisket, our new family cows, I had to re-home Samson the Donkey today.

Samson the Donkey, roped and grazing in the early morning a few days ago.
We only have 5.4 acres. Wife and I very carefully considered where we wanted to take our family, and based on the direction we're going, there simply aren't enough acres for cow and donkey to coexist.

So, we found a new place for him about an hour away. He was picked up and brought to the vet earlier this afternoon for a checkup by his new owners. He'll "retire" on a 30-acre farm with 4 horses. He'll be happy. Right now, we're still sad.

I still believe in the benefits of donkey ownership. However, the benefits of cow ownership, coupled with the economics of backyard milk cows, simply tipped the scales.

Goodbye, Samson the Donkey. We will miss you.


Actually, TWO cows.

Me, left. Bridget, middle. Brisket, right.
Holy. Freakin. Cow.
Bridget is a registered Jersey cow. She was born in 2011, a few weeks after Thing #3. Brisket is her first calf. He's five months old, and fully, ahem, intact. (We'll be remedying that tomorrow....). We just brought them home late Friday night, so we're all still adjusting.

We named Bridget after St. Bridid of Kildare (a.k.a., St. Bridget of Ireland). She'll help out with our long-term plans SIGNIFICANTLY, and provide us fresh, raw, healthy dairy right away. Brisket is loosely and alliteratively named after his ultimate destination.  :)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Late Middle Mid-February Homestead Update

Yowza, what a month. We started fermenting our chicken feed last weekend. We also moved the baby chicks from the house to the chick-u-bator (forgot to post on that). We found a way that the antique piano might actually get repaired and playable this year.

ALSO, over the next several week I will be announcing some major additions and departures to the homestead, so stay tuned. That has been occupying much of our time and energy, so posting has taken a mild back seat. Oh well - it'll be worth the wait.

Trust me - cool stuff coming soon.

DIY Fermented Chicken Feed

Fermented wheat, barley, oats, sunflowers, and kelp. Served on a plate.

Wife and I have been looking into different ways to feed our chickens a healthier diet. After all, they produce food that WE eat, and we'll only consume healthy eggs if THEY are healthy. Common sense, right?

So we've been gradually moving toward "healthier" since we started. For a while, we were getting the brand-name cheap stuff from Tractor Supply. It was a pale brown, underwhelming mystery feed comprised of mostly (we think) grain by-products. Yum.

Then, we started getting the "All Natural" stuff from the local farmer's co-op here in town. While certainly better, it lacks that you'd expect. "Hydrolized corn proteins" just don't scream "all natural" to me. But hey, at least it's better than "modified grain by-products," right?

So, that wasn't the answer either.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Beginnings of a Hugelkultur

Finally! It's coming together.

I spent a good bit of time last week sawing and hauling some of the larger logs to build our first hugelkultur.

The hugelkultur base. That log on the right was a beast to move.
Our current raspberry plants will eventually end up here. I have some more building and cutting and hauling until we're ready.

On a semi-related note, we also planted our replacement trees this weekend. I forgot to take pictures.  :(  But, I'll post some updates of the orchard once everything starts to leaf out.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Economics of Backyard Gardening

I explored the economics of backyard egg-laying chickens and the economics of a milking cow last week. Today, i want to look at the ubiquitous backyard vegetable garden.

"Garden" is such a loose term. It can refer to anything from a few flowers set by the house, to a tomato and pepper plant in a pot, to a raised bed or two, to a 400-square foot plot of mixed results (like our garden last year), to perfectly manicured coifs of flowers and decorative trees, to anything and everything in between.

Yeah....there's no way I'm doing that.
In this piece, I'm going to focus on a garden that is totally dedicated to growing vegetables for a family to eat. Flower gardens are great and all, but for the practical homesteader, a veggie patch gets more return for the money.

Refreshing the Nest Box Bedding

The nest boxes in my DIY movable chicken coop are built of wood. As such, the bottoms are hard (duh). So, to soften them and prevent eggs from cracking, I need to keep it full of hay.

Well, I've been slacking lately on that, and since I had to cut some to change the baby chicks' bedding anyway, I went ahead and topped off the 5 nest boxes.

The Rhode Island Red in the upper right, and an Australorp in the lower
left. For some reason, the nest box right above the feeder is the favorite. The
favorite is without new hay, the other 4 are with new hay. Quite a difference.
Now, the hens will be able to lay in peace and comfort, and I will not have to worry about eggs cracking in the box. That would adversely affect the economics of the backyard egg laying flock, and we can't have that.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Baby Chick Bedding Change

The thing about keeping baby chicks inside is you gotta change their bedding. Often. Because they poop. A LOT. And it smells bad.

So, I changed it this morning.

Pictured here is everything we need to keep house chicks:
The brooder box, the metal lid/lamp apparatus, the beer box
(where they are at the moment in this picture), and the feed bag.

Part of the process is moving the chicks into a smaller container so I can get the straw and poop out of the big container.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Economics of a Backyard Milk Cow

Earlier this week, I explored the economics of keeping backyard egg-laying chickens. Since I want to get and keep a milk cow for the family, I thought I'd do the same thing for a cow.

Hey! I don't wear overalls!

We're going to need to make a few concessions and constraints based on my situation here, though.

  1. A milking cow need at least an acre of good growing pasture. Add in a growing steer for beef, and you can effectively double that. So a cow/calf pair should have 2 acres of pasture during the growing season. Let's assume I have that.
  2. A milking cow must be fed hay in the winter at about the rate of 25-35 pounds of hay a day. We'll crunch the numbers using 30 lbs./day as the go-to hay rate.
  3. Hay can be harvested in three cuttings a year at the rate of about 5 tons per acre in zones 6 and 7 (we are in 6b), and potentially more if fertilized. I will assume less than the ideal and guess it's closer to 4. Let's also assume that I have a separate section of land for hay harvesting.

So, those things being assumed, let's dive in and see what we can see.

St. Brigid of Kildare

I found a new saint yesterday. Quite by accident, actually, and I kind of forget how I stumbled across her. Her name is St. Brigid of Kildare.

St. Brigid, pray for us.
St. Brigid is also known as St. Bridget of Ireland, St. Bridgett, and St. Brigit. The spelling changes, as she lived in the 400's AD.

Story goes, her mother was converted and baptized by St. Patrick himself. Her pagan father died, leaving her Christian mother to work as a dairy maid for a Druid landowner. Brigid worked for the family dairy as well, eventually eschewing a mixed marriage with a pagan for the sake of preserving chastity, and ultimately, the habit. Legend has it that St. Patrick heard and approved her final vows before entering the convent.

I have a personal affinity and connection with St. Brigid for several reasons. And as Wife and I have been told recently in our NFP journey, there are no coincidences.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Backyard Chicken Economics

You have to spend money to make money. -Old Saying

As with any endeavor in modern times, there is a "start-up cost." This may be, in our case, the cost of buying day-old chicks, incubating and feeding them until they're productive, and building a movable chicken coop.

Indeed, they do take them.
Then, they become "productive." This means laying eggs or able to be processed for meat. They still, ya know, eat during this time, so the cost of ongoing feed gets factored in as well.

So after our very first home-grown, backyard egg (valued at around the low, low price of $800) came through, needless to say we were a bit excited. Because at that point, the cost-per-egg figure goes down exponentially.

I don't have an exact egg-per-day count, but based on some milestones I've documented (first egg, first half dozen, first dozen, first 15 egg, 100% day), we have received roughly 620 eggs in 81 days. That's 7.5 eggs a day. Counting the cost of ongoing feed, we're still in it for over $1 per egg. An we don't even do the certified organic thing.

"Water-Front" Property

Our homestead was labelled a "water-front" property in real estate listing. And it's true on some days:

The "wet-weather creek" that cuts our property in half, full because of last night's rain.
When it's full and flowing, it's great - a peaceful, babbling brook in a scenic glen of wood.

Trouble is, most of the time it's dry and empty. I would LOVE to rely on this stream for livestock watering, centering pastures around it for free, unlimited, low-maintenance watering. But alas, I cannot. All it really does is provide a scenic (and peaceful-sounding) backdrop to the homestead after a good rain.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why Are Self-Sufficient Family Farms So Big?

Short answer: horses.

Long answer: there are many factors involved. First of all, for a true "self-sufficient" farm, you need to produce everything you need from the land. That's all food, water, clothing, building supplies, medical supplies, cleaning supplies, heating, lighting, tools, books, recreational activities, etc., along with all of the other necessary to keep them up.

I think most farms are needlessly large and hyper-specialized these days.
Of course, one person (or heck, even one family) cannot reasonable do it all. Taking on blacksmithing, woodworking, animal training, dairying, crop growing, shearing, weaving, looming, tanning, medicine, home building, and general day-to-day repairs, on top of the routines of life with laundering, cooking, cleaning, and normal family life, is a big task.

So self-sufficient farms really DON'T do it all. Instead, they produce extra of whatever, and then sell and/or barter to fill in the gaps. Or, they maintain a separate income source and narrow their focus. But I often encounter situation where advice or "standards" are based on the first camp.

"Oh, you definitely need at least 60 acres to be self-sufficient."
"You can't have sheep and cows on less than 10 acres."
"You have to a barn, and 5 acres for hay, and this for that, and ...."


Monday, February 3, 2014

Happy First 100% Egg Rate Day!

41 beautiful brown eggs.
We had all 15 hens lay an egg today. This is the first time this has happened. I believe the previous record was 13 eggs. So, today's 15 was added to our running total, to make it 41 eggs on hand.

Now, these 41 eggs are left AFTER we sold 18 to my sister, then ate 13 for breakfast yesterday.

Looks like pizzomelettes for dinner tomorrow....

Waiting is the Hardest Part

Tonight might be the end of Phase 2.

Is it Phase 3 yet?
Or, it could be tomorrow. Or maybe in another two weeks. I don't really know.

It's very difficult to wait for marital intimacy without wanting to throw a great big tantrum sometimes. But the waiting itself is one often misunderstood aspect about NFP in that it helps impart grace and virtue of its own accord.

You see, the joining of spouses is a very good thing, if not the best human thing, in and of itself. It is a glorious part of God's creation, a mystery of the relationship between God and His Church, a perfect unity of masculinity with femininity, a glimpse into the inner life of the Trinity, and all that other cool stuff. (Really. Go read where I cite the Catechism and the Bible and some saints and popes. read Parts Two and Three also.) Plus, married love is just plain amazing.

Yet, as an NFP couple, we delay this awesome love, and frequently at that. Yeah - it's tough. Even though we've been practicing it for years, it's still very difficult waiting for the embrace.  But I'm beginning to notice the good in waiting, too.

The Family Millk Cow: 10 Pros, 10 Cons, and 8 Extra Thoughts on Owning One

OK, fine. I'll just come out and say it publicly:

I really want to get a Jersey milk cow.

Yup. She'll do nicely.
I've been thinking about getting a cow off and on the last year or so. I've definitely zeroed in my focus and reasons in the last several months on the actual pros and cons of such an endeavor. And it is an "endeavor." Owning a cow is big step and a big responsibility.

So, we'll start with the cons: