In todays world, the desire to get back to basics is becoming more and more desirable. Our hope is that you will find some of the knowledge we share a benefit to you, to get closer to your dream of a healthier lifestyle, less dependent on assembly lined, processed, manufactured items.

Our goal is to help you find ways to use modern conveniences to allow you to live the life you want to live, and raise your family with the traditions that are important to you.

Grab a cup of coffee, or a glass of tea, and join us as we share our lives, our family and our knowledge with you.


Saturday, May 7, 2016

More of our Presenters...

With the 2016 Spring Gathering a week from today, I guess I better get some more introductions made.  Not everyone has had time to get me their detailed information, so I will include what I know about them.

 
Jasmine will be presenting information on Growing, Preserving and Using Herbs.  Jasmine and her husband are looking forward to the day when they leave the small town they live in for a home in the country.  Jasmine began learning about herbs and their uses at an early age, and her interest and knowledge has expanded over the years.  Her website, Thyme and Timber, is a wealth of information for both beginner and experienced herbalists.  You can also follow her on Facebook at her Thyme and Timber Facebook Page.


Lance has an variety of experience growing all types of plants.  According to Lance, "I have been doing some type of gardening my whole life."  Lance has run landscape crews, has been a nursery salesman for several years off and on.  He has worked with soil scientists and Horticulturists.  Lance feels that basically anyone can grow food with chemicals, but Lance prefers to test out different soil mixtures with different plants and keep things all natural.  Lance and his wife Cynthia live on a small acreage with their children and have been key in organizing and developing the Ash Grove Farmers Market.  You can also follow them on their Facebook page, Mossy Rock Farm.  Lance is planning a great presentation on natural soil amendments to get the most from your garden plants. 


Caleb is a remarkable young man who is self-taught in many areas of homesteading and primitive arts.  He is currently focusing on blacksmithing, from which he makes knives and other tools.  He also enjoys repurposing other metal objects, such as railroad spikes into usable items.  Caleb's latest endeavor is turning some of the slab wood, which is a byproduct at a local sawmill into gorgeous slab bowls.  Caleb was homeschooled by his remarkable mother, and his ability to research and work independently shines through in the skills of this young man.  As one of the older siblings in his large family, his younger siblings are guided by Caleb in many ways.  He is true pioneer in the interests he pursues. 
 
Tina, and her family raise calves,
goats, ducks, rabbits and other animals on their farm.   She will be teaching us how to raise our goats naturally.  For every problem, there are natural treatments, and Tina has extensive experience in that area.  She plans to share her knowledge in treating common illnesses without resorting to chemical and synthetic medications.  Tina will also be sharing the benefits of having goats on your farm/homestead.
Whitney is a stay-at-home mom to two wonderful little boys, and contributes to the family meals by offering butchering and processing of small animals on the shares.  It is a win-win situation for her customers who know she uses humane and sanitary methods, just as she does for her own family.  They get the delicate process of dispatching completed, and give her a share of the final meat for her family.  Whitney processes all types of small animals and plans to demonstrate the process with quail, chickens, rabbits and a turkey if one is available.
 
We hope you will join us for the day.  The presentations will begin at 9 and run until 4:15.  Our location is on our farm near Miller, Missouri.  You will need to bring lawn chairs, and a picnic lunch, if you would like.  Other items you might find useful will be a notepad and feel free to bring your camera.  More details are found here.  We look forward to visiting with you.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Introducing.....

The time for the 2016 Spring Gathering is fast approaching.  Today, I would like to introduce you to 3 of the featured guests who plan to give presentations during the Gathering. 

Joy, is the inspiration behind Bean Post Farmstead, where she lives with her family near Miller, Missouri.  She will be presenting information about raising rabbits, including health/ nutrition, sustainability, cost and time considerations as well as foraging, pasture, and garden planning, also seasonal considerations and transitioning away from the typical pellet diet.  She has been raising rabbits for 7 years, and feeding naturally for 8 months. Joy has just begun a new blog, bean post farmstead.  She is looking forward to meeting everyone and participating in some of the other presentations, especially the Bee Keeping Basics.  She says, "We've been wanting bees for a long time but haven't learned anything about them yet, so we're excited!" 

Justin will be presenting information on Basic Bee Keeping. Justin grew up in rural Alaska on a piece of property that was homesteaded by his grandparents.  During his 21 years in Alaska, he participated in many outdoor activities including hunting, fishing, playing in the woods and riding snow machines in the winter months.  Growing up in a house heated by wood, Justin learned the basics of homesteading first hand.  His Dad bought a piece of land up in the Caribou Hills, which is in the middle of nowhere.  This is where his family built a cabin and lived for about a year, completely off grid. They had a generator but had to haul in any fuel used, any food not grown, and actually tapped into a spring for their water.  Justin moved to Missouri 16 years ago.  According to Justin, "I have been interested in bees for about a year now, and should have 4 hives or more by the end of the year." He is hoping to harvest his first Missouri honey in 2016.  Justin and his wife Melody live on a working homestead in Dade County, meaning "it's a work in progress," according to Justin.  They have cattle, hogs, chickens and rabbits and are also doing a large garden.  Justin is creating a blog for following the progress of his bee hives, but is not quite ready to go public with it.  We will share when he does!

Our last introduction for the day is the owner and creator of Sudsy Soap, Cheryl.  Cheryl started her goat milk soap business 2 years ago.  Her soaps contain oils, butters, fragrance and essential oils.  She makes everything from a Gardeners/Mechanic Soap to a Bug Be Gone Soap.  Since starting her soap business, she has added candles, lip balm, body butters, and bath bombs.  She also makes laundry detergent, stain sticks and bath salts.  She and Bruce live on a small farm outside of Mt. Vernon in Lawrence County, where they raise goats and chickens, and have a large garden that Cheryl and Bruce share the labor of preserving the produce.  She also works a full time job for Opaa! Food Management as Director of Mt. Vernon School District and is a training director for new districts in the company.  Cheryl also teaches Food Handlers Classes and Servsafe Classes in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.  On the day of the Gathering, Cheryl will be teaching us how to safely make a basic soap from items we find in our kitchens. 

I hope to have information from 3 more of our presenters to share with you next week.  We still have additional rabbit husbandry, growing and using herbs, natural gardening, natural goat husbandry, dispatching and processing small game, blacksmithing and bowl making!  It is shaping into a wonderful day.

The closer we get, and the more finalized plans become, the more I realize what a wealth of information will be shared at the 2016 Spring Gathering.  For complete details and to reserve your spot, visit the event page or email me. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Spring Gathering 2016

Plans are coming together for our 2016 Spring Gathering at our homestead on May 14th, 2016.  We are very excited to be able to offer educational sessions along with a time to share ideas and experiences with like-minded people.  We are planning to run sessions from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.  We are hoping this will allow ample time for morning and evening chores and still give you time come and enjoy the day.

At this time we are scheduled to have 9 presenters who will be offering information on many topics: raising rabbits and goats, growing and using herbs, blacksmithing, wooden bowl making, natural gardening, butchering small animals, basic beekeeping and more!  Our day will be available at no charge to attendees.  Bring your lawn chairs and a picnic lunch and plan to spend the day with us.

You will be able to choose and attend 6 of the 12 sessions that will cover various topics.  The schedule for the day is outlined below.  Sessions followed by (*) will only be offered at that time, all others will be offered at two different times during the day.

9:00-10:00  Soap making--a simple soap made from common kitchen ingredients
                    Raising Goats Naturally--Raising and natural treatment for common problems
                   Growing Herbs*--Basics of herb gardening and common herbs that are easy to grow  

10:15-11:15 Basic Beekeeping--Understanding the miraculous honey bee
                     Raising Rabbits--Raising Rabbits and dealing with common issues        
                     Blacksmithing*--See and watch some new items made from common metal  

11:30-12:30 Natural Gardening--Growing produce with natural pest control and soil enhancement   
                    "Pellet Free" Rabbits--Feed your rabbits in ways that don't involve processed pellets
                    Dispatching Fowl*--process chicken, quail and perhaps and prepare for the freezer
 
12:45-1:45 Basic Beekeeping--Understanding the miraculous honey bee     
                   Raising Rabbits--Raising Rabbits and dealing with common issues
                   Dispatching Rabbits*--process rabbit and prepare it for the freezer 

2:00-3:00   Prepping Herbs*--Learn various ways to prepare, preserve and use common herbs
                   "Pellet Free" Rabbits--Feed your rabbits in ways that don't involve processed pellets
                   Natural Gardening--Growing produce with natural pest control and soil enhancement   

3:15-4:15  Soap making--a simple soap made from common kitchen ingredients
                  Raising Goats Naturally--Raising and natural treatment for common problems
                  Wooden Bowls*--Watch as Caleb works to turn a slab of wood into a shallow bowl   
                 
The sessions will be informal and questions will be encouraged.  You may choose at any point to skip a session, spread a blanket and have a picnic lunch, or you may eat lunch during one of the sessions. We have a large grassy area, and will have bottled water and drinks available.  Again, there is no charge for anything throughout the day and a box will be provided for donations to help offset costs, IF you choose to do so. 

One of the goals with our own homestead is to help others take their dreams to a realistic point.  You don't have to own a large acreage to provide healthy food for your family.  You can grow a garden anywhere; you can make soap and other projects in your kitchen; raising rabbits, chickens and even goats is possible in small areas; growing and using herbs will take your cooking to a whole new level, and many have medicinal uses as well; beekeepers are found even in large cities!  Some towns even allow small animal husbandry, with some restrictions.  Check the ordinances where you live.  You can preserve healthy foods by attending farmers markets, shopping produce sales at your local grocer, or trading your neighbors for their excess produce.  Nothing is impossible.  We hope to teach some basics and begin to offer resources of knowledge and networking to give you the motivation to start!  My point is that you can do this! No matter where you are in your life, there are ways you can provide better, safer, more enjoyable food and items for your family.

Papa and I were both raised on farms and it did not occur to us until recently that we have knowledge, and a wealth of family and friends with knowledge that should be shared.  Many people do not have access to this knowledge, so this is our way of beginning to share with others.

In addition to Papa and myself, we have had 7 others step up to help organize and put together this event.  With their help, we hope to make this a recurring event at least twice a year.  Look for the organizers, the day of the event, in their bright orange shirts.  Let them know how your day is going, and let them know what we can do to improve future Gatherings.  We already have several topics in the works for a Fall Gathering if you all would like.  Your feedback after the event will help us determine what sessions to plan for the Fall Gathering and will help us make improvements to best meet your needs.

Please, let us know of your intentions to attend, so that we can have plenty of drinks available, and plan for parking accordingly.  Visit  2016 Spring Gathering on FaceBook to reserve your spot, learn more about the presenters and find out additional information as it becomes available!  No FaceBook account?  Email me with 2016 Spring Gathering in the subject line!

We hope to provide you with a day of fun and knowledge, please come hang out with us.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Thinned Mint, Anyone?

The past week has been another roller coaster around the homestead. We've worked in the garden, planted in the greenhouse, begun work on re-doing pens in the barn for the animals, worked in the rapidly growing herb bed, marked our queens in both our bee hives and added supers for honey stores, and made a trip to the ER with our son.  All the while we have begun planning a 2016 Spring Gathering for local homesteaders/self-reliant persons/farmers etc.  We are excited about how well it is coming together and I will be doing some individual posts regarding the event, presenters and schedule for the day.

Yesterday, I worked in the greenhouse and herb garden.  I have always wanted mint....and now I have MINT....three kinds....fast growing....oh-my-goodness-mint!  The best advice I have for anyone growing mint is do not be afraid to pull up the runners and dispose of them!  Mint is prolific, some even say invasive!  My Homestead Mint is a very hardy variety and yesterday I thinned at least a bushel basket full.  I pulled it, roots and all, and know that I will be doing this regularly.  I planted it in a buried container initially, to help contain the roots, but it still sends out runners and likes where I put it enough to spread like wild fire.  I don't say all this to discourage anyone planting it, in fact just the opposite, I encourage everyone who wants any kind of herbs to grow mint.  Mint is an easy herb to grow and has many uses.  Success is almost assured, but you do need to be aware of its prolific nature when choosing the planting site and be prepared to spend a bit of time to keep it controlled.

In trying to keep the mint from taking over the other 10 or so herbs I have in one bed, I spent the day yesterday pulling the runners.  When I found myself with no less that a bushel of pulled mint, I began to think of what to do with it.  No way did I want to just burn it, or waste it.  I wasn't sure about feeding it to the rabbits or chickens, so I decided to make sure it was used for human consumption until I can confirm its safety for my animals.  I had always thought of harvesting herbs as a one time thing, much like corn or green beans.  You pick it, process it, and your are done.....with herbs though, you can harvest all season long.  Each type has it's ideal time, and depending on the intended use, you may choose to harvest certain times of the year for specific processes, but you can harvest it any time.  I'm not an herbalist, and am just learning much of the basics about herbs and their uses, so I won't give specifics that I may or may not be accurate about.  I encourage you to do some research.  It is fascinating.

After thinning out the herb bed and removing all the wondering Mint, I selected some nice healthy starts and potted them into cups, with large holes drilled for drainage.  I made sure to choose plants that had large root systems.  These will be offered for sale for $2 each as soon as I am certain the roots are strong and the plants are growing.  I will also be starting, sage, lemon balm, spearmint, peppermint, and others as time allows.

After potting,  I pinched each plant back  to encourage new, bushier growth.  Each place that was pinched back should send out 2 more shoots.  I used to avoid pinching back plants.  It just didn't seem right to pinch them back after they had worked so hard to grow. Now that I understand exactly how the plants grow, and how pinching back encourages healthy, bushy plants, I find it much easier to accept this part of the growing process.  The end results are much stronger, healthier plants that produce more.  I also saved all the leaves that got pinched off and added them to my extract, so nothing was wasted at all.

After pinching all the tops, making sure the starts got a good drink of water, the top leaves were saved for washing off and making my first start of mint extract.  I took the rest of the plants I had thinned into the Canning Kitchen.  I removed the roots and washed the stalks and leaves to remove any bugs or debris.  The stalks were then stripped of the leaves and discarded.  When I got enough to pack tightly into a quart jar, the leaves were packed tightly and covered with Vodka.  After making sure the leaves were all submerged below the surface of the liquid, and air bubbles were removed, the jar was tightly capped and was set in a dark cool place to set for several weeks.  Most people who do extracts recommend colored jars/bottles to avoid breakdown from the light.  I don't have a good selection of blue or brown glass jars or bottles, so I am using a cool dark corner on one of my canned good shelves for now.  Hopefully this will get me by until I can get some more appropriate jars.













I then set out to clean the rest of the mint.  Prep it for the dehydrator so that it could be dried for tea.  I dumped it in the sink, cut off all the roots, washed and rinsed it and laid it out on one of my drying screens to drain. 





















These drying screens are invaluable to me.  I made them to store my sweet potatoes over the winter, but have many other uses in the canning kitchen.  I will be making more very soon.











There are couple different schools of thought on the drying process.  Some require stripping the leaves prior to drying, others allow the leaves to remain on the stems.  If you bundle the stems and let them air dry, the stems are necessary to tie to.  I chose to leave my leaves attached to the stems for the dehydrating process.  I will remove the leaves as I crumble them for tea.  This works best for me and they seem to be removed faster after they are dry than removing the leaves when they are green.  With my dehydrator, the mint will be completely dry overnight, even with the stems.  If you are drying in the air or sun-drying on a rack, it might be worth the effort to remove the leaves so that you are not retaining moisture in the stems.  When dry, the mint has a beautiful blue/green/brown appearance.  I will eventually mix my leaves with lemon balm, chamomile, and other herbs for various flavored teas.  I am excited to experiment with various flavors and see what I can brew!

I know my ancestors did not have the benefit of electric dehydrators and had to utilize the sun, air and other means of drying.  By being a Modern Missouri Pioneer and using my dehydrator I can do in a few hours what it used to take weeks to do.  This should allow me the time to experiment and come up with some tasty teas for both summer and winter.  Many of the herbs I am considering, have medicinal properties as well as wonderful flavor.  These teas, tinctures, extractions, decoctions and infusions can be used in combination to boost our health and treat illnesses, all naturally.  They can be used in making salves, lotions and soaps.  The possibilities are nearly endless.  I've only just begun to learn.

I'm sure my son, would love it if I could grow a plant or whip up a medicinal that could repair bone and replace teeth.  He had a mishap a couple of days ago.  While working on a ladder, he leaned one way, the ladder went the other and after the air conditioner effectively removed two of his front teeth on the way down, his right arm "broke" his fall, literally.  He will be laid up a while, recovering from both orthopedic and oral surgeries.  The lessons learned are many, not the least of which is remembering that that little sticker on the top of a ladder that reads, "NOT A STEP" it is really important to pay attention to. 

Everyone be safe when working outdoors in the Spring.  It only takes a moment to do things safely, and it may take weeks or months to heal up if you choose an unsafe method that you think is faster.  Sorry, Son, but you gave me a teachable moment....and you did photobomb my phone last week!  I love you!




Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Week in the Life...


This previous week has been an ever changing series of events.  At times I've wanted to cry, occasionally I have laughed, and more frequently than my Mama would be proud of, I have cursed!  In dealing with a multitude of events, and trying to make sure we are caught up with the quickly approaching Spring, my blog post got put aside, twice.

Many people assume that living on a farm, or homestead, whichever you choose to call it, is a day to day life of serenity and sunshine, where you awake to the birds chirping, the sun shining and a day free of stress and obligation.  A part of that is sometimes true....occasionally....once in a while..... 

lA better description of the reality of my life is that I awake to the rooster crowing, goat kids screaming and/or an alarm blaring, the varied Missouri weather of 70 degrees one day and 30 the next, and a day that no matter how much you get done, you know more is waiting to be done.  The ever changing events of any given day can lead to frustration beyond belief.  Those are the days I realize that I need to learn to react to with a shrug and laughter, more often than anger and frustration.  Sometimes though, you just have one of those days.

We were actually making progress on the stands for barrels for planting in the green house.  We went to town and bought lumber, measured carefully and, after a couple of adjustments due to something that didn't cross our minds about how we were seating the half barrels, we ended up with some sturdy, waist high stands.  These stands will hold 4 half barrels that will be used for planting "salad" in the green house in the fall in hopes that we will have fresh grown greens and other salad fixings all winter long.  The plan will be to grow lettuce, spinach, kale, radishes, and onions, directly sown in the barrels.  I'm sure we will adjust our plans as we get further into the project. 



In the meantime, while we need to start seedlings for the summer garden, at least some of these barrels can be covered with a firm surface to create "tables" for our starter trays.  I cut some scrap plywood for that purpose, but I am getting a bit ahead of myself.  After finally completing the stands, I knew we were within minutes of getting my greenhouse to the point I could actually set a plant in it!  We hauled the stands to the greenhouse......only to find a minor problem.....




Though the greenhouse had withstood the high winds of spring on top of our hill for three weeks, for some reason it decided to succumb to the winds that day and go belly up!  We discovered it rocking back and forth on it's top.  It was amazing how quickly my demeanor flipped.  I went from feeling satisfaction and pride in knowing we were almost ready to add plants.....to wondering how in the world we were going to undo what Mother Nature had just accomplished. 

In looking back, I can laugh at how ridiculous my precious greenhouse looked, and can almost hear Mother Nature's witchy cackle as she reminded me that I needed to take the time to do things right.....like stake down the greenhouse!  Fortunately for us, we have a wonderful group of friends and a great family, so within a half hour of our frustrating discovery, we had help on the way, with a plan for up-righting the greenhouse and the rope it took to get it done.  I wish we had taken pictures of the process, because it actually turned out to be a very simple undertaking, that I couldn't see in my stressed out response.  We simply rocked it to one side, secured a rope to the bottom board, that was actually on the top, at the moment.  That rope was secured to the UTV and three of us guided and supported the greenhouse to it's proper position, while Papa pulled the rope with the UTV to pull it over. It's been 6 days since the greenhouse decided to do somersaults in the wind, and now is upright, staked down, door back on, barrels in place, plywood cut for tops of barrels, and a few plants started.  It feels and smells like a greenhouse.  It will have additions made to it, changes made to it, and further work done to it.  Just like life, it will be a constant work in progress.

Despite all the unforeseen issues, the past couple of weeks have allowed us to move the broilers to a large pen in the barn and make them a new feeder and waterer that will ensure they will have what they need to grow fast, and prevent many of the trips into the pen with feed and water.  We have moved the turkey poults to an outside pen, moved the quail to the large brooder box, butchered a pig to teach a friend who was uncertain how to butcher one himself, set the incubator full of Chukar eggs and officially check my digital thermometer for an accurate temperature reading, helped a friend milk out a Nannie goat with a sore udder, hung some shelves in the canning kitchen, had a short visit with my parents, and hosted Easter dinner complete with massive egg hunt. The nice days have been busy with outside activity and the rainy, cold days have been used to plan the outdoor projects that will be done when the sun shines again.

During my upside-down day, I realized a few things.  First of all, life is never still.  Life is a constant stream of changing events.  Our reactions to those events our what help to determine whether we are going to have good days or bad days.  I work on my reactions constantly, and while some think I am too laid back, others think I am too volatile and harsh.  I have high expectations.  But none of my expectations are any higher than the expectations I set for myself.  Rolling with the punches must be a developed skill to allow life to be enjoyed.  In addition to learning to roll with the punches, it has been critical for me to learn to understand the differences in Men and Women.

No, I have not just now discovered the physical differences in the sexes, but have focused on the psychological and emotional differences.  Do I respond well to those differences?.....nope....not usually, just ask Papa if there is any doubt.  I am still, at times, totally confused by these differences, but I am aware of them.  This awareness is the beginning of understanding and compromising. 

Let's take for a minute, laundry.  Ladies, did you know that most men DO NOT MIND dressing from the basket of clean clothing?  Really, they don't care!  Their clothing is available and clean.  Good enough for them!  Men, did you realize that there are women who find it important to fold and put away laundry after it is clean and dry, but also ORGANIZE their closets and drawers?  Yes, my clothing in my closet goes from white to cream to gray to black to brown to rust to red to pink......and each section goes from sleeveless to short sleeves to long sleeves to sweaters/jackets.  I can find what I want quickly, put together outfits that I feel good about wearing and quickly change from dirty jeans and boots to something clean and nice to run to town for feed.  And, yes, that is important to me.  I truly feel better about myself if I go to town free from the odor of pig or chicken shart. 

How about the perception of tools.....and their storage, or lack of.  Some men truly find it easier to return to the place where they last used them, and search for them than to have to open a tool box or cabinet to find them.  They actually usually know where they used it last, and are perfectly happy with the extra time it takes to do a project caused by the search for the elusive 1/2" box end wrench, that they used 4 weeks ago to replace the lawn mower blade.  The see no need to waste time organizing the screw drivers by size and design in a separate drawer from the wrenches arranged in size order.  They will be used and thrown in the last opened drawer, if they don't get left where they are.  On the same line, gentlemen, do not be surprised if your tender loving lady becomes a fire-breathing-rainbow-word-spewing-dragon.....when, even though they have bought you the fourth set of screwdrivers in less than that number of months.....they can not find one to complete a 2 minute job.   

Gentlemen, the view of watching your lovely farm woman use your best screwdriver, along with your new Eastwing hammer to chip away the large boulder that is preventing her from planting that new rose bush in the perfect spot, is about as pleasant to you as the feeling she gets when she finds Gramma Emma's antique bowl in the dog pen full of dog feed!
The author who wrote, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" surely lived on a farm where two very intelligent people are trying to come to an agreement on the best plan to get the same result.  Or they lived in a home where the most important jobs of getting ready to have company for dinner have been strongly debated for eons. 

For the lady of the house, the importance of mowing the yard for the third time this week is definitely up for debate.  While the man of the house, sees no need to make sure the floors are swept for the second time today....after all, "those young 'uns are going to be running in and out all day anyway"....and who will know whether the stove was shiny and the counters were spotless, because they are soon going be covered with delicious food and no one will care.

Life has away of giving us balance, if we accept it.  It gives us ups and downs, it gives us sun and rain, it gives us cold and warmth, it gives us men and women, all of which are not only necessary to survive,  but useful to creating a life we enjoy and want to pass on to our children and grandchildren.  I recently had an impromptu Easter dinner at the house.  No one who came knew that my stove was not as clean as I wanted it, that both my washer and dryer were full of laundry in various stages of completion or that my bed was not made.  And apparently no one cared that my laundry basket was full of clean clothing waiting to be folded, nor did they care that there were cobwebs in the corners or that I didn't take time to change from my "chore clothes" to "company clothes". 
They did enjoy the food, loved being outside for a HUGE Easter Egg hunt, and visited and hooped and hollered throughout the afternoon.  The grandchildren will not have memories of a dinner where Nana was cranky and running them out from under foot, but will remember getting to sweep the floor (even though the corners were missed) without someone coming behind them making them feel like they weren't good enough.  They will remember getting to "stuff" the Easter eggs with candy with their Great Grandmother.  My 8 year old granddaughter will remember getting to peel potatoes for the first time (with a vegetable peeler).  My grandson will remember feeling the pride of putting the baby goat back in his pen, by himself, without being made to feel like he wasn't fast enough to do it himself.  These are the feelings I want everyone to feel when they are with us.  These feelings are only nurtured when you allow yourself the time and opportunity to truly and realistically set priorities and gain an understanding of the that are truly important to others.   
Spring is definitely a busy time, where every spare minute can be filled.  No matter what you get done, there is more waiting to do.  So I challenge you all to take a deep breath, smile at your family, and enjoy what you are doing.  If you are doing it just because it needs to be done, you are missing so much.


I mean really, who would want to miss a moment like this?  Welcome to my life! :)



Monday, March 21, 2016

Quail, a great backyard meat source



Our venture into raising quail has expanded more this week after hatching our first Brown and Golden Jumbo Coturnix quail.  These little buggers are absolutely amazing!  Papa has admonished me more than once for just sitting and staring at these little bumble bee sized, fuzzy balls of energy.  I've heard them described as fuzzy popcorn, and after hatching our first bevy, I see why!

I started with 83 eggs I purchased from a friend (despite visiting for over an hour, she could not get them to lay one more for an even 7 dozen!).  I was more excited to start the hatch than I was informed so I made some mistakes, but still have ended up with a moderately successful hatch.  I have learned many things in the process so as I start an incubator of Chukar Partridge eggs this week, I hope to avoid some of the previous mistakes.  I'll explain what I did, and what I SHOULD have done.

I purchased the special quail rails for my automatic egg turner since my schedule does not allow me to be at home for over 24 hours at a time.  On March 1st, I loaded them up, setting them neatly into the incubator with the large ended down....(I know, I know....I will get to this) and a small amount of water in the reservoir in the bottom.  I knew the incubation period was 18 days, so I marked the calendar for March 14th, 4 days before hatch, for "lock down". 

I had done some experimenting on my digital thermometer and discovered that it read a full 2 degrees higher than my thermometer/thermostats in the house, which read exactly the same, so I made an adjustment to all the thermometer to read 104 degrees. 

Since my current incubator is a still air, I have learned that the target temperature is 102 degrees, plus or minus a half a degree either way, rather than the standard 99.5 degrees that is usually discussed when setting up an air circulated incubator.  I had done some homework.  :)  Another source I had read had suggested that unlike chicken eggs, quail eggs did not need to have a higher humidity, hence adding the small amount of water.

Now, for what I SHOULD HAVE DONE!  I should have placed the eggs in the trays SMALL END DOWN.  I have learned that this is the case with ANY egg you plan to incubate in an automatic turner.  As the chick develops, it develops in the upper part of the egg, hence the need for the larger end to be upward, allowing for better growth and development and allowing the chick to more easily turn to the final position for breaking out of the shell when it is time.  I also should have filled the water reservoir and used the plugs in the top of incubator to manage and maintain the humidity level at 45 - 50% during the first 14 days, and increase it to 60 to 65% during the last three days of "lock down".  The increased humidity during these last three days prevents the membrane inside the egg from becoming dry and tough as the chicks begin to pip their way out.  If it becomes to tough, the poor little guys are stuck and "shrink wrapped" within the membrane and will suffocate and die.  I did learn this in time to up my humidity some, but still had some issues with a few being unable to break through the tough membrane. 


Let me take a moment to explain the "lock down" period, as I understand it.  If you are hand turning the eggs, you will need to so, 3-4 times per day during the initial incubation period.  This prevents the chicks from becoming stuck to the side, and encourages movement which prevents deformity in the embryo.  The "lock-down" period is the last four days prior to the anticipated hatch date.  The eggs are no longer turned, if hand turning.  If using an automatic turner, they are removed from the turner and laid out on the screen bottom of the incubator. 







With quail, it would have been a good idea if I had added a breathable mesh to the bottom, to prevent them catching their tiny feet in the screen.  I will do this in the future.  You can use something like the non-skid shelf liner, inexpensive and easy to find, cut to size.  You could also use plastic canvas grid from a local craft store. 











The next four days are the time the chicks spend doing their final development, getting into position and beginning to break through their shells to emerge into the incubator.  This is the first time I realized how long it can actually take from the initial pip to final emergence.  I was frequently over 24 hours from the time I first noticed the tiny protrusion of shell until the chicks actually broke out of their shells.  Patience is much needed during this time, and with the exception of adding or removing the plugs to maintain humidity, you should leave things alone....especially NOT OPENING the incubator for any reason.
The chicks will not all hatch at the same time.  Some may begin hatching on day 16 while the last may not emerge until day 20 or 21.  If the eggs are older than 7-10 days it may take extra days for them to hatch.  There is no rush to remove them, and remember your goal is to not open the incubator, because they have enough nutrients from the yolk sac that they have absorbed in the last few hours before hatching to last them up to 30 hours.  I left my first ones to hatch in the incubator for nearly 24 hours with no ill effects.  When you open the incubator the humidity will drop and hinder the ones that are still trying to emerge from the shells.  I ended up having to help the last 7 of mine....which TOTALLY NOT RECOMMENDED.  They had struggled for quite some time and the humidity had dropped to the point that the membrane was very tough.  I did ultimately break the membrane for them.  Again, this is not recommended and they may be detrimental to the chicks.  I was to the point that I was certain that they would die without help, so I had nothing to lose.  I  DID NOT REMOVE them from the shell, just opened the membrane that they were unable to do, and left them to their own devices.  It appeared that it was too late for one, but the other six still appear to be doing well.
While the chicks are hatching it is time to prepare the brooder box.  This area will need to be dry, free of drafts and have a source of light/heat that will keep it at 95 degrees.  You need to avoid shavings or sawdust initially, as these little critters may try to eat it and die.  I put paper toweling down or easy clean up.  I added some water in a very shallow dish (plastic lid) filled with marbles.  The marbles are not only attractive to the chicks, but they prevent the chicks from getting into the water and drowning.  I was told by someone who has raised several quail that, "they really aren't very smart!"  

Even though the gamebird starter feed is in small crumbles, these guys are so tiny, I ran a few cups through the blender to make a powdered feed for their first week.  Then I cut the bottom off a plastic container to make a short bowl for their feed. 






The quail chicks will remain in the small brooder box for a week or two, depending on the number and how quickly they grow.  Then they will be placed in a larger brooder until they are at least 4 weeks old.  Their environment should remain at 95 degrees for the first week, and can then be reduced by 5 degrees per week until they are 4 weeks old.  By this time, unless it is really cold, the heat source can be removed.  By the time they are in the larger brooder, they will be under a heat lamp that can be raised a bit each week to achieve the temperature reduction. 

Some of the Coturnix Quail are Brown and some are Gold.  We got a mixture, so we will be able to see which variety we like the best.  We will be keeping the largest for breeding and eating or selling the rest.  They grown and mature quickly reaching full growth and weight at 6 weeks and become viable adults producing fertile eggs beginning at 8 weeks of age.   As the birds age will create a habitat with some "cover" for them to enjoy and an area with dirt or ashes for dusting their feathers.  I look forward to providing updates as the project continues and they grow and develop into meat for the table. 

The video below is a quick peak at them running around in the brooder box.  They remind me of fuzzy bumble bees without the stingers!  Ignore the background conversation.  Papa and JD were discussing some of their projects and their day and didn't realize I was videoing and I wasn't paying attention to their conversation. :)
video
 
 On a side note, our Texas A & M quail are growing rapidly.  We need to clip their wings to prevent any escapees from flying away.  They continue to react quickly and will dash out the door at lightning speed when you are cleaning the cage, changing the water or feeding them.  So far, we have only had one casualty.  Unfortunately, one quick female was fast enough to get out the door on me, but was not fast enough to avoid the grip of our Mountain Feist's jaws when she hit the ground.  We were able to retrieve her and dress her for our freezer.

It is hard to believe that these birds were approximately the same size as the one I held in my hand at the beginning of this post, just 6 weeks ago.  They are now "full grown" and can be put in the freezer at any time.  We will wait to butcher until we can try to sex them, so that we have several breeding covey.   They should be laying fertile eggs within the next couple of weeks.  We will be hatching those to raise for meat as well.  We will also sell hatching eggs, hatched chicks and adult birds as well as frozen meat as extra supply allows.