Every time you feel in God's creatures something pleasing and attractive, do not let your attention be arrested by them alone, but, passing them by, transfer your thought to God and say: "O my God, if Thy creations are so full of beauty, delight and joy, how infinitely more full of beauty, delight and joy art Thou Thyself, Creator of all!
- Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain

You can’t get to joy by making everything perfect. You can only get there by seeing in every imperfection all that’s joy.
-Ann Voscamp

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Handmade "Pay It Forward 2012" Challenge

I'm so excited that I was able to find a place to jump into this challenge over at My Freezer is Full. I was one of the first five people to comment on her blog post, which earned me the privilege of, within the year 2012, making a handmade item to pass on to the first five people to comment on my blog post. If you'd like to find a handmade item in your mailbox sometime in 2012, be one of the first five to leave a comment here accepting the challenge. You, in turn, will accept the challenge to make a handmade item of your choice for the first five people to comment on your blog by the end of 2012.
If you're one of the first five to comment on this post, please use the contact button to leave me your address, and I'll get my fingers busy making something for you! :)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Counting Blessings # 227, and More Homestead Management

#227) I'm so incredibly thankful today to have married someone who is such a great father. I'm so glad he takes such an interest in his children, guiding them and teaching them. Being a mom is challenging, but it's a lot easier with a dedicated husband and father to lead us all. I don't think I knew enough when I married him at 21 to know what a gem I had. :)

I wanted to share a bit (and I know only a bit) about rotational grazing for livestock. This is a system that is critical to the holistic, natural care of cattle, sheep or goats (I only really have experience with goats), especially on small acreage.
We utilized some rotational grazing in a very simplified way last summer, and hope to use it more efficiently and effectively this grazing (or browsing, as the case may be) season.
The simple form we used last year was to stake the goats out in the yard, keeping a constant eye on them to make sure they didn't get tangled or harassed by wildlife or neighborhood dogs. The staking method we came up with involved movable twist in stakes such as you'd use for a dog run. We used a bungee cord from the stake to the actual rope, giving the goats a gentler stop in case they got scared and began to run (which they often did at first). Thicker cotton rope is the best to use because if a goat gets tangled and panics she won't cut her legs. This could happen very quickly with a cable or nylon rope, and the goat may become injured even if you're keeping close watch.

This coming spring, we plan to use cattle panels to create movable fencing, and have a lightweight shelter for each pen. This will allow the goats to spend more time grazing/browsing in their movable pasture. Without any shelter, goats especially won't feel secure in the pasture. They won't want to spend as much time there. They also need the shade and shelter from even the shortest rain showers. If it rains and goats don't have shelter, they will cry like the Wicked Witch of the West. They seem convinced they'll melt away.
The benefits of rotational grazing include healthier pastures and parasite control. The pastures are healthier because you control how much and what is eaten. The idea is to keep close watch on the condition of the grazing area. See that the animals eat all the browse/pasture down evenly, but not so far down that it causes stress to the pasture plants. First they will eat everything they love, and then they'll be forced to eat the things they don't love (but are still healthful to them). This way, the things they don't like won't take over and choke out those plants the animals like the most. When they've eaten it down sufficiently you move them to a new area.
This also helps control parasites, which are a goat raiser's most prevalent problem, especially if she wants to avoid chemical wormers. Ideally, one area of pasture should only be grazed on once a season. Of course, on 1.5 acres that's not possible. There's a solution, however, that makes it work. The grazing area shouldn't be allowed to be grazed down any lower than about 4 inches, and then the animals moved. The grazed pasture should then be left for about two weeks. The poop that has been left behind in the pasture will contain parasite eggs from the host (cow, sheep, goat). During the two weeks that it is left alone, the parasites will hatch and climb the blades of grass (They can climb about 4 inches, hence the reason you shouldn't let the grass get shorter than that while the animals are grazing on it).
After two weeks, mow the grass. Either use a mulching mower with a bag to collect the trimmings (and parasites), or mow, let it dry and rake it up. This takes care of the majority of the parasites that would have found their way back into the host who grazed on that pasture next. When the pasture has grown out again, you can safely move you animals back onto it. The pasture will be healthier for the good fertilizing it's had, and it will be safe for your animals.
That's the idea, anyway. :) I plan to attempt this system along with an herbal wormer. I will try to keep you posted as to what I learn and how it all goes. I'm just beginning to understand this myself.
I also wanted to point out that having these movable fences makes it easy to allow goats to graze down overgrown areas of your property, and maybe even the neighbors who would like to get rid of an overgrown area. Goats thrive on good quality browse. They will be sleek and shiny, have less parasite problems, and get into real nice condition very quickly on it. They love raspberry, pine, willow, tag elder, wild roses, poplar, thistles, and lots more. They're really good at staying away from things that are bad for them as long as there's plenty of good healthy browse available. They will also graze on pasture if there's no browse available. They like dandelion, trefoil, red and purple clover, lespedeza, and various grasses and lots of other things that I don't know what are. I never paid much attention to "lawn" and "grass" before, so it's been a steep learning curve to understand what little I do.
Some cautions with goats on pasture:
-Avoid putting your goats out to pasture early in the morning when the grass is wet from dew, especially if slugs and snails are a problem in your area. They climb the wet grasses and are ingested by the goats. They are host to liver flukes and lung worms which could infest your animals.
-Any changes to your goats' diet should be made slowly. If you're going to put them on pasture in the spring, or if they aren't used to it, give a feeding of hay in the A.M. first. Start with a short amount of time and build up slowly, until they can tolerate being on pasture all day. It is a good idea to continue a small hay feeding in the morning. This will help to prevent bloat from too much rich green vegetation being compacted in the rumen.
-Provide baking soda free choice so the goats can self regulate the acid level in the rumen. This is important in preventing bloat, especially in a diet high in green grasses and concentrates (grain).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Managing a Diversified Homestead With Little Acreage

Mama Tea, the farm girl over at A Farmish Kind Of Life posted a few questions on her blog yesterday that gave me an idea for a post. I'm forever feeling that I really don't know much at all, and in the big scheme of things that's probably always going to be true. However, I realized today that there are a few things that I do know, and I should share them. So, Mama Tea (and anyone else who's curious), this is for you.

Homesteading a small piece of property in Northern MN has its challenges. There's a lot less space available to utilize, so it must be utilized well. It does take some thought and foresight. Here's what I can say about how we take these challenges and turn them into benefits.

Manure: when you don't have a lot of space for it, what do you do with it? You could put it to good use by composting it. This is actually very simple. All of the used bedding, manure, kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, garden waste and weeds go into one big pile. The pile has to be kept at a depth and width of about 3 feet or more, enough to heat the pile up good. This kills the seeds that may be present it it. The pile has to be kept wet, and we add as much green matter as we can to it. We end up with basically two piles. We add new materials to one pile, and keep the other pile working until we're ready to use it. It also has to be turned once in a while, but for us the chickens take care of that. They spread it out, and we have to rake it back up. They also eat up a lot of the seeds in it, which helps us to be able to use it sooner. It should only take about six weeks for the pile to cook the seeds and then it's ready to use. It will get as hot as 140 degrees F. It may even steam after a rain or sprinkling with the sprinkler.
When it's ready you can add it directly to the garden. If, like us, your configuration of raw materials contains a lot of straw and hay, it will still contain a lot of straw and hay. That's okay. It will be light and airy, and help to lighten heavier soils.
The way we bed our animal pens doesn't produce as much waste as you might imagine, and we really don't end up with too much. In fact, if you garden, there may not be such a thing as too much. If you do end up with more than you can use, maybe you can advertise it, and sell it or at the least get someone who wants it to come and get it. That's our plan if we do end up with more than we can handle.
Currently on our 1.5 acres we have three goats, 17 chickens and 6 breeding rabbits and the young that there usually are in some stage of growth. We use a deep bedding method for about 6 or 7 months of the year for the chickens and the goats. This means that my goat barn hasn't been "mucked out" for about 4 months now. I know it may be hard to believe, but it doesn't smell bad, and the top of the bedding is dry and clean. This is how it all works.
In the spring, the chicken shed gets a good cleaning out, a sprinkling of DE and fresh bedding spread, but not very much. We muck out the areas that need it on a regular basis to keep it fresh. That's actually not a huge amount, since they are free ranging during the summer. Mostly it means shoveling out under the roosts periodically.
The goats get the same spring cleaning, and then bedding spread only in the corners of their barn. This gives them a cozy place to sleep (and they choose a place to pee in, too). Goats poop nice dry berries that are easily swept up with a broom and dust pan. This I do twice a day, getting the floor nice and clean. An added bonus of this cleaning is that I have nice clean goat berries to side dress plants in my garden. The plants really seem to benefit from this treatment before they begin to flower and set fruit.
The rabbits are in hanging wire cages in the rabbitry. They have straw spread on the floor under their cages. Their treatment never really changes. It gets mucked out when it smells too strongly, and fresh straw put down. This happens more often in the summer than the winter. In the winter when the deep bedding method is being employed, we will take the slightly used bedding from the top of the litter in the goat barn and recycle if for the rabbits so that the goats get a clean, fresh surface.
As it gets cooler, we actually get a break from regular mucking out since we need to get a good layer of bedding and manure accumulating. This actually composts during the winter, helping to heat the animals. To keep the top layer clean for the goats, use a pitch fork to fork up the top layer and shake the berries out, leaving them under the clean top layer. Add new straw as needed to keep the top layer clean and the barn smelling fresh. At first I thought this would never work. I thought that by mid winter there would be feet of straw built up and the goats would be jumping over the gate. However, it seems to break down and compact, and really hasn't built up to a depth of more that 6 or 8 inches, except where they usually pee and poop and where they bed down for the night. I let it build up somewhat more in those areas. It really produces some good heat, and benefits the animals greatly.
Well, this is getting really long already, and I've only talked about manure so far. Next time I'll talk about free ranging chickens and rotational grazing for goats.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

goat Business

I've been busy!
First I was trying to incorporate my goat information onto this blog. Some of you may have noticed the tabs, and maybe had a look?

The tabs are gone now, and it their place I decided to create a new blog for the goats. You can find it HERE.

I had never intended to start a goat "business", but it seems that one comes up with an immediate problem when beginning to keep milk goats. In order to make milk, they must give birth. That creates little goats, anywhere from one to five per doe (thought I hope not more than three per doe).

What to do with all the little cuties? We could just eat them, and I think we will eat some of them. However, when you're breeding for milk production, it seems a waste to eat up all those potential genetics. I feel very excited about a couple of our breedings, sure that they're going to produce some really great kids. What a shame it would be for them not to go to people who could really utilize them for their true purpose.

Therefore, I hope that starting a blog featuring the goats will help people to be able to find them, and allow me to see that some of the best find good new homes where folks like us can use and appreciate them.

If you get a chance to take a peek and check out the pages, please let me know what you think. I'd like to have your input as I develop things. Thanks!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Counting Blessings #226 -

The house is quiet. Everyone's getting a slow start this morning. I'm enjoying a few minutes to try to find words for what I feel when I think about the many ways I'm blessed in this life. I'm praying to be able to hold on to this peace and joy during the week, when things occur that aren't so joyful. While scrubbing the toilet, cleaning up spills, shoveling manure, lugging watter, washing the same dish for the umpteen millionth time (WITH good smelling detergent). I want to be able to smile, and lend peace to every situation, making difficult moments a little better for those I share them with. I want to be a blessing.
The truth is, I'm not always a blessing. I'm sometimes the first to get angry, the first to complain, or the look on my face shows my sour thoughts without a word. I wouldn't want to be around me sometimes. In fact, I've often wished I could walk away from myself, get a break from me.


226) All the family and friends who put up with me while I'm learning to let thankfulness soak in and become a part of the fabric of me, and each time I'm successful at letting it speak louder than my circumstances. God's been working on this are of my life for a long time. I glad, and I hope He's getting closer to completion.

I had a whole list of bessings written, but it was getting long and I decided I wanted to share something significant that happened to me when my children were all quite young and life was hectic, and I WASN'T USUALLY THE LEAST BIT THANKFUL.

I often sit in bed in the morning praying for the strength to get up and do what needs doing all day long without wounding anyone with the negative words that come all too easy.

One morning, I was sitting and just sort of listening, waiting for something amazing. And, low and behold, it happened. This voice in my mind said, "I'll be with you when the milk spills." Well, my response was, "Will there be spilled milk today?" To which the voice said, "Yes." Well, I was sort of thinking that this wasn't too helpful. I got up and dressed, and about 10 minutes later I was getting breakfast for the children, aged newborn, two, five and seven.

I'd forgotten all about the voice of God as he'd spoken to my heart about a very real need in my life. The most basic of needs. Strenght to deal with the thousands of endless wrinkles in the day that we all encounter.

Little Two suddenly slammed her tiny hand down on the table, catching the edge of her bowl and unbelievably sending it into the air to come down on her head. Milk and cereal dripping, running onto the chair and the floor.

I was about to react in my usual resentful, sour, begrudging way, when suddenly I remembered...

"I'll be with you when the milk spills." And you know what? That changes everything. It changes EVERYTHING that God, who has so many more important problems to deal with, chose to tell me that he cares about spilled milk.

I LOVE Him, and apparently, He loves me. He loves me enough to understand that spilled milk can be a very big deal to me. He loves me enough to tell me that He cares about that. Not, "Have a better attitude about silly things like spilled milk," but, "I will be there with you." It's been making a difference in my life for the 7 years following, and slowly I'm learning to trust Him and be thankful. God is good.

Have a blessed Sunday!

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Sandwich Is the Perfect Lunch?

Hi to all of you wonderful people who keep sticking with me even though I'm having so many computer problems. I am occasionally able to read your blogs, but not often enough. Hopefully one of these days I'll be running full speed again, then I'll have some catching up to do. The main problem I'm having is the old lap top we use when our PC isn't working is so incredibly old and slow that I can't aford to take the time I would need to get on the blog often. It also most of the time just plain won't let me comment at all, either on your blogs or mine. :( But it is keeping me off the computer more, and I'm getting other things done, so that's something to be thankful for for sure. :)

Today I really don't have much time (shouldn't be on here at all), but I wanted a chance to read some of your wonderful posts. I decided to make PBJ's for lunch so I could save some time.

My 8 year old said, "This is the best lunch I've ever had!" If all it takes is two slices of whole wheat bread and a tablespoon of natural organic peanut butter with a very thin spreading of jam, why do I not save time more often? :) It was very cute, but I'm not sure what that says about my normal home cooked lunches?

I also took a minute to change my header. I need a bit of springtime inspiration for garden planning and seed purchasing. I hope to "visit" with you all soon! Happy Monday!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Quick Homestead Diary Update

Hey Beautiful Blogger Women-

I managed to get some time on a friends computer (Thank you bunches and heaps!), so I'm able to do a quick update on what's going on here.

WIND sums it up pretty well. MUCH wind, and cold. The thermometer says 3 degrees, but it feels like -30 to me. Last night was crazy windy as well. In fact, I had a nightmare about a tornado. Even the cat and dog were restless all night. Why is it that if you have children who are afraid of the dark, as soon as the power goes out they wake up freaked out? Oh, yeah, the power went out too. That part was actually pretty fun for me. :) I like it dark.

The goats are back! :) I'm loving having them back, and wondering if all of them were bred. I dropped them off to be bred on December 1, and Cupcake was in standing heat the day before. Starlight and Japanzy were supposed to be in heat about a week into their time with the bucks. I picked them all up on the 23rd, and found that Cupcake was at the end of her heat. Maybe I should have left them longer, but I hope the 23 days were enough, because I couldn't bear to have them gone longer. That really makes me sound like a crazy goat lady, but I can't help it. It's the real truth. I like my goats. A lot. ;)

They're doing great since coming home, even Starlight seems to be feeling better than she did before and during her stint with the buck. I'm thinking it's going to be a long 4+ months of waiting to see those kids.

The chickens are really picking up in their egg production. They're happy and friendly, crowding around me when I come in to care for them in the morning. Even when they have water that isn't frozen, they all crowd around to peck snow off of my boots. not sure why that is, but they seem to love it. Yesterday we got 10 eggs (out of 16 hens). Not bad for the end of December. I can now sell some eggs, which seriously helps when they're eating so much feed. In fact, I need to put scratch and laying mash on my list. They're going through it pretty fast now.

Well, it's late and I have to force myself outside to drive 20 miles to get home. It's way too cold and windy to be driving. I wasn't prepared for the weather to take this turn. It was 11 degrees, still and sunny when I headed for town this afternoon. Can't wait to curl up in my bed and put my cold feet on my hubby. :)