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Archive for September, 2010

Here’s our duck bevy “at the water cooler” 🙂 Our bevy currently has 4 Indian Runners (2 drakes and 2 ducks) and 4 Khaki Campbells (3 drakes and 1 duck). Our plan is to keep one of the Khaki drakes (we just need to decided which one it will be) and all of the female ducks.

As I mentioned in my post yesterday we’ve already butchered 4 drakes and since the weather is going to get cool again looks like we’ll be firing up the pressure canner to process some more stewed duck and stock.

I’m really looking foward to being able to use the meat and stock to provide some of our meals this winter. We’ve already used some of it to make soup and it was really yummy.

Yet another step towards self-sufficiency.

A bevy of ducks around a water pan.
(Click image for larger view.)

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Ok… we finally had to do it. Twelve ducks were getting to be TOO MUCH so we picked one out (the big Swedish Blue below) to practice our duck butchering skills on. Yes, I did say butcher but before you think “how cruel!” I would like to remind you that our ducks and chickens have a very good life here on the homestead. Well, good up until the butchering part, that is. Let’s face it… if you’re trying to be self-sufficient and want meat on the table I guess you’re going to have to process it yourselves.

They (the ducks and chickens) aren’t crowded into little pens all day and night but are allowed to roam about the homestead to free range for forage. They also receive some commercial feed to supplement their pasture forage. Hey, they even get picked up and petted now and then!

Blue Swedish Duck at Hickory Hollow Homestead.
(Click image for larger view.)

The Process

Day one – we placed the drake in a holding pen and limited him to just water for a day. This helps to “clean out” the duck so to speak. The next morning hubby picked the big blue up and brought him to the spot we selected for the butchering job. Next he put the duck’s feet into a piece of bent wire so that we could hang the duck upside down on 2 screws that he had already driven into the tree.

The book we read said to cut the jugular vein to bleed out the duck. This should be done about one inch back from the bill on the left hand side. Easier said than done. This vein wasn’t very easy to cut so after several attempts we use the second method suggested in the book which was to cut off the duck’s head with an axe.

Neither one of us had ever plucked a duck (or a chicken for that matter) and since we were planning to roast this one and wanted to leave the skin on we started pulling out the feathers. Oh what fun! Actually it wasn’t too bad. Just messy.

Finally Bob finished the process by removing the guts, liver, etc. We used poultry shears to open the bird up all the way because, at least for this first time, we wanted to make sure we had removed all the necessary parts. From start to finish (with 2 of us plucking) it took a little over an hour to complete the job. We put the duck on ice overnight per the instructions in our book.

Please note that I decided not to post any “bloody” pictures 😉

The next evening we roasted it in our 12″ dutch oven. When I went to put the duck into the dutch oven I thought it was going to be too close to the lid and was worried about it burning so, since we had cut the breast bone anyway, I SQUASHED IT! My sister calls it Pressed Duck but I like “squashed” better.

All we did was rub a little bit of seasoning on it and baked it. Bob and I had heard that a lot of folks don’t like duck because it’s too greasy but ours didn’t turn out that way at all. In fact it was quite tasty!

Pressed duck roasted in a dutch oven.
(Click image for larger view.)

Bob built a campfire and used wood coals (instead of usual charcoal briquets) to cook the “squashed duck” in the 12″ cast iron dutch oven.

He did a WONDERFUL job of getting it nicely browned, don’t you think?

Be sure to notice where Blaze’s feet are in the photo. She could smell something good was cooking and wasn’t going to be too far away when it came time to eat! She thinks “Squashed Duck” is very, very good!


Since then we’ve reduced the duck bevy by 3 more ducks. This time we just skinned them instead of plucking the feathers because I planned to stew them up for soup meat. This went MUCH faster than plucking did. I pressure canned 8 pint jars with meat and stock both and then 12 pint jars of just stock. Obviously there were 2 different canning sessions because the jars with meat needed to be processed much longer than the ones with just stock.

Between butchering, stewing, picking off the meat, and canning — this was pretty much an all day affair but I know we’ll enjoy the soup that we make with it this winter 🙂

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Chicken On The Run

Here’s a photo of one of our Speckled Sussex chicks “on the run”. We pretty much let them free range whenever we can and they LOVE it. They are constantly foraging. Chickens are omnivores which means they eat plants and meat. Most folks know they eat lots of bugs but, believe it or not, these two month old chicks are great at catching baby snakes and eating them. We’ve counted 4 that they’ve eaten so far that we know about. All of the snakes have been Speckled King Snakes – which are actually good snakes – but oh well – maybe they’ll get some of the copperheads too!

speckled-sussex-chicken-on-the-run
(Click image for larger view.)

This chick is one of our favorites. He was one of the sicker ones and we didn’t think he would make it. We think he’s a rooster because of the big comb and wattles but he doesn’t have any tail feathers – probably because of being sick. He’s doing great now and is one of the better foragers. If he feathers out well at the next molt he just may be the rooster we decide to keep.

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It’s been brought to my attention that we’ve been bad and haven’t posted a picture of Blaze in a long time. So here’s an update on our homestead dog!

She’s had to make a few adjustments lately with the addition of our new chickens and ducks to the homestead. At first she was VERY curious about them and, let’s face it, she still is! Naturally she wants to chase them but we don’t let her. She seemed to be a little bit intimidated by the ducks – mostly the drakes – because they would peck at her and try to run her off from her food and water bowls so we decided to let her “herd the ducks up” now and then so she could show them who’s the boss of the homestead animals. 

Bob and I were just talking about her life as the homestead dog. Blaze is about 10 months old now. She’s healthy, trim, alert, curious, has bright eyes, good teeth, and a sleek coat. We’re probably a bit prejudiced about the subject but we think Blaze is happier here on the homestead than she would have been in “the city”. She certainly gets more exercise here – she’s constantly on the move.

She has the woods to explore which provides LOTS of mental stimulation for her. Whenever she finds something new she lets out a specific bark that means one of us should come check it out too — she’s found everything from a turtle – to a lizard – to an armadillo –  to a racoon – a gazillion bugs – AND a copperhead snake. We take her “I’ve found something bark” very seriously!

Blaze is a very smart – typical of the rat terrier breed. She is definitely a working member of the homestead!

Blaze - the homestead dog - at Hickory Hollow Homestead.
(Click image for larger view.)

Blaze is ALWAYS on the alert!

Well… almost always!

Blaze - asleep on the job at Hickory Hollow Homestead.
(Click image for larger view.)

But we still love her!

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What We Miss

When we were initially planning to move here to the homestead we posted about what we thought we would miss and, more importantly, what we thought we wouldn’t miss. We thought it would make a good post to update our thoughts on those subjects.

We Miss:

  • Living close to our family and friends
  • Having a good building supply company close by — especially now that we’ve started building housing for our livestock. The closest store is about 20 miles away.
  • Having access to more stores – you have to adjust your shopping when there’s not a JoAnn’s or Office Depot down the street. The closest super WalMart is over 40 miles away. As a result we’ve learned to live with less. We try hard to buy local but do turn to the Internet when we have to.
  • Having access to a larger library network — I DO the Johnson County Library and especially the Friends of the Library Bookstore at the Antioch Branch.
  • Freecycle.org and Craigslist.com – we really found a ton of great no cost/low cost stuff through these sites before we moved but I think the recycling/reselling concepts work better in a big city because there’s more population to access. DUH!
  • Internet access at home — Currently we only have access to the Internet if we go into town and use one of the local hot spots or the wi-fi at the library. While the Internet is a great resource which we use when we can, it’s also easy to get caught up in the surfing time warp.

We Don’t Miss:

  • Mortgage payments 😉
  • Utility bills — while we are purchasing the occasional propane tank for the camp stove and paying a monthly water bill (basically the minimum amount), believe me, it’s a LOT less than what we used to pay 😉
  • Our J-O-B-s — although we enjoyed what we did there’s just something different about getting up in the morning and working on a project that will help us become more self-sufficient rather than working for a paycheck to “buy more stuff”.
  • TV – in fact we seldom even think about it. Although we must admit that it would be better to watch the Kansas City Chiefs and Missouri Tigers football games than to listen to them on the radio but, hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. It’s also better when they win 😉
  • Big city traffic 😉
  • Having to drive around in the snow to get places. Our new lifestyle allows us to stay at home when the weather is bad. Just put another log on the fire and read a good book.
  • The weight we’ve lost 😉 — the homestead “diet” works well. Work hard and eat what you want!

Now that you’ve been reading about our experiences for the past year I’m going to ask everyone again… what you you miss most if you decided to become modern day homesteaders, move to a small community, and live off the grid like us?

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Homesteading Year One

Can you believe it’s been a year since we officially became modern day homesteaders? While we’ve had our share of good homesteading experiences, Year One has not been without failures and disappointments. Some we anticipated (the poor garden production), some were out of our control (the summer heat and drought) and some that slapped us upside our heads (the truck accident). Ultimately, we can say that the first year has been a successful one because we’re still here.

There are several priorities that must be considered when you decide to live this way, such as land, lodging, water, food, power needs personal hygiene, and so much more…

LAND

If we had to do it over again we would have handled the land selection differently. We’re still happy with our 10 acre homestead but what we should have done was figured out how to live in the area for awhile before making our final land selection.

Rent is pretty inexpensive in a small community like we live in or perhaps we could have “rented” some land space to set up housekeeping in the tipi. Either way this would have let us scope out the area more thoroughly before purchasing our homestead.

The one thing I really wish we had was a water source on the property. We do have a “wet weather” creek that runs through a corner of the property but it’s not very close to the tipi. Also we have several places that could be made into ponds with a little work.

LODGING

Obviously having a “roof” over our heads was a priority at the top of the list. A lot of folks questioned our decision to live in a tipi but believe it or not it wasn’t that bad. That is if you don’t mind it being boiling hot in the summer (highest temp I remember inside the tipi was 114Âș) or freezing cold in the winter – low temp was 9Âș. Also don’t plan on it being completely weather proof especially during a big rainstorm 😉

There’s not much you can to do make a tipi cooler during the summer months so we spent most (ok, ok, all of our time) outside including cooking and sleeping outdoors at night) BUT… you can make it warmer during the winter if — and that’s a big IF — you have decent wood to burn. Which we didn’t.

As we’ve posted before, the forested areas of our property had been logged for timber several years before we moved here and there were lots of tree tops left on the ground. We thought that these tree tops would burn and should make good fuel for our cold winter days but we were WRONG!

When we moved here last September we used some of the cut wood for our campfires and to cook with and didn’t seem to have any problems. Then it started raining. And it rained. And rained. What we didn’t realize at the time was that the wood was soaking up all that rain water and that made it not burn well. We tried stacking the wood to maximize air circulation but by this time we were well into the winter months and there wasn’t enough heat from the sun to dry the wood. We also covered the stacks but it was too late to keep the wood dry.

The unseasonably cold winter weather, bad wood, and poorly designed stove meant that we spent most of the time doing the SAW-SPLIT-DRY-BURN process. Saw the wood into shorter pieces. Split the wood into smaller pieces. Dry it on top of the wood stove to drive out the excess moisture. Burn the small pieces to keep warm. Repeat immediately because the small pieces didn’t allow us to load up the stove for a long burn.

We originally thought we would have a small cabin built for this winter and while we did spend quite a bit of time discussing our options we just couldn’t quite decide on what we wanted to build. Since we really don’t have a ton of money sitting around to do this more than once we wanted to make sure we did it right the first time. SO… what the heck, we have plenty of wood cut, stacked, and cured for this winter AND Bob plans to make a barrel stove that will be more efficient that the one we bought last year. SO… here’s the plan… we’re going to spend this winter in the tipi too!

FOOD

Providing your daily food is not easy but it’s absolutely essential if you want to be self-sufficient. Like I said in a recent post, the spring/summer garden was a disaster! Like one of our readers commented – reclaiming forest soil takes awhile. We used some pelletized lime on the beds about 6 weeks ago and also added some well rotted cow manure to each of the beds before planting the fall garden and that has really help a lot! Unfortunately I’m a little bit late getting some of the seeds started because it was just TOO DARN HOT in August so it looks like I’ll have to be creative about extending the growing season. I’ll be sure to post some more about that later on.

We’ve also taken the first steps to raising poultry. Our main goal for having poultry is for eggs. Eggs are a very complete food and we plan to make them a big part of our diet. And for Blaze too, of course! The ducks we purchased recently should begin to lay any day now. Unfortunately the chickens won’t be ready to produce eggs until sometime in January.

We plan to get a couple of goats next spring to supply us with milk and meat. We’re looking forward to having the milk to drink but also we want to use it to make cheese, yogurt, kefir, soap, and so much more.

We’ll also be starting up a few beehives next Spring. There’s plenty of uses for the honey and the wax 😉

Of course, there’s always the option of hunting. We’ve harvested several squirrels — makes great squirrel stew — and we’re hoping to get a deer this fall. If we do, we’ll pressure can the deer for our meat.

PERSONAL HYGIENE

Toilet

Quite a few of our readers have asked about — hmmm – how shall I put this? — what we’ve been doing for a toilet. Well… after months of going to the woods to dig a hole we finally found a good source for sawdust and have started our “humanure” which means that we’re composting our waste. Currently this involves a 5 gallon bucket with a snap on toilet seat lid and some sawdust but eventually when we do build a cabin it will be a bit fancier 😉

Here’s the basic concept:

Materials:

  • 5 gallon bucket with toilet seat lid — I highly recommend the Luggable Loo 😉
  • Supply of sawdust.

Directions:

  • Snap the lid onto the bucket,
  • Before the first “use” put a small layer of sawdust in the bottom of the bucket,
  • “Use” as needed,
  • Add more sawdust as needed — depending on the “use” 😉

When the bucket is about half full we empty it into a compost bin. The waste and sawdust is covered with a layer of dry leaves or straw. We pull this layer back, empty the bucket and then put the leaves back on. Believe it or not, the bucket isn’t really that dirty but we still take a toilet brush and give it a scrub and a rinse before starting the cycle over again.

We have a compost bin that is exclusively used for composting this waste. After the first bin is full we’ll start another bin and let the first one continue to compost for about a year before using the finished product on trees and flowers.

Without going into a lot of gory details here a link to read more about it here.

Bathing

Also, we’ve been asked about what we’re doing for bathing. First let me say that homesteading will make you adjust your standard of cleanliness. There’s many a day we don’t take a full shower and only make do with wiping our faces and arms.

During the winter we took a lot of “spit baths” in the tipi. Fortunately we had an ample supply of rain water and it really did a good job of washing and rinsing. We felt clean but we’re not sure that everyone else would have thought the same way about it.

The long, hot, dry summer that we’ve been experiencing made is necessary for us to hook up to rural water. While it doesn’t feel nearly as wonderful as rain water it does allow you to strip down to your birthday suit and take a full blown shower 🙂 YEP… we shower right there in the middle of our front yard. Good thing we have lots of privacy here!

Laundry

Doing laundry by hand is a long and tedious job and yet another level of our life that we needed to adjust our standards. In our previous lifestyle we were pretty good about not wearing our clothes only one time and then washing them. I mean, let’s face it, do your clothes really get that dirty in just one day?

Now, here on the homestead, we’ve been known to wear the same pair of shorts for up to a week without washing them. During these hot months of summer Bob has mostly gone shirtless while I usually have on a sport bra or tank top.

Don’t worry…we taking showers on a regular basis (using the garden hose sprayer) and changing our underclothes. There’s a difference between cleanliness and not being sanitary but our day-to-day work clothes just don’t get washed that often. We change into our “go to town” shirts and hats and then back into our work clothes as needed.

So what does it take to get the laundry done, you ask? First you gather up the dirty clothes, duh! I have a couple of 5 gallon buckets that I sort the clothes into and then I add some of homemade laundry soap and fill with water (I have to admit that the pressurized water does work well for this last step). I’ve found that letting the clothes soak over night helps to loosen more of the dirt.

On day two, I take a bucket and use a toilet plunger and agitate the clothes. Then I empty them into a large tub and wring out as much of the dirty water that I can. Then I rinse the clothes and wring them again. Rinse and wring until I’m satisfied that I have all the soap (and as much of the dirt as I can get) removed. Finally, hang them to dry. Currently I’m using a temporary clothesline but Bob is going to build me a permanent umbrella style clothesline soon – yeah!

POWER

Like I’ve already said, we did decide to hook up to rural water this summer but we’re still managing our limited power needs with just one solar panel, a charge controller, and a deep cycle battery. Basically we have ONE 15 watt compact fluorescent bulb for our lighting needs at night and occasionally we need to charge up the laptop computer. It’s all a matter of learning to live with less.

P.S. For those of you who are curious about this system – Bob (who understands this “stuff” more than I do) has promised to write up a more detailed post about it – soon – so be sure to come back for more info.

Year Two – We’ve Only Just Begun

There are so many things that we didn’t do or get started in Year One that we wanted to but the important thing is that we’re still here and tomorrow’s another day.

One of my personal goals for Year Two is to be more consistent about blogging! As you can tell by reading this post… there’s plenty of stuff happening every day to write about but finding the time to do so is another thing altogether.

If we had Internet access here on the homestead it would certainly make it a lot easier to share our experiences and do this blogging thing but then again it might tempting to spend too much time surfing 😉

I’m sure I didn’t cover everything so let me know if you have any questions. We want to send a big THANK YOU to all of you for spending Year One with us. We sincerely hope you will continue to visit our blog to read about our homesteading adventures in Year Two.

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I thought you all would be interested in reading more about the chicken tractor that Bob built for our small — but healthy 😉 — flock. He used a plan we purchased from Catawba ConvertiCoops. I think the plan was originally intended to make an attractive chicken coop/house for urban poultry farmers but we thought it would work well for the homestead too. If you’re thinking about raising some chickens of your own this is definitely a housing option you should take a look at.

As you can see, this lower part of the tractor is a wire pen and the upper part — which the chickens access by walking up the ramp — provides a roosting bar, 2 nesting boxes, and predator proof housing.

Chicken Tractor Side View
(Click image for larger view.)

Each end has 2 doors. The larger door on the bottom lets us feed and water the chickens or to let them in and out of the tractor. The smaller top door opens up to each of the nesting boxes built into the tractor. The side panels — one on each side — lift off completely which makes it very easy to clean out the coop! The handles that extend from each end allows us to move the tractor from one spot to another. 

Chicken Tractor View 2
(Click image for larger view.)

Chicken Tractor View 3
(Roosting bar and nesting box. Click image for larger view.)

One of the reasons we really liked this plan is because the bottom opening is 4′ by 8′ which is the same size as our garden beds. This makes it REALLY convenient to take the “tractor” into the garden and let the birds eat bugs, till the dirt, and do what chickens to best – poop — directly where we need it most.  We plan to use the tractor on each of the fallow beds this winter on a rotating basis. Hopefully this will help improve our soil for next Spring’s crops. When we’re not using it in the garden it can be easily moved to other areas of the homestead that need fertilizing, like the orchard and pasture areas.

This is a pretty cool plan and works great for a small flock of chickens. Before we lost most of our chickens we also had plans for building larger coop and would house more birds but for now we think the tractor will see us through the winter. We’re really hoping that since we selected a breed of chickens — Speckled Sussex — that will still go broody that we’ll get to rebuild the flock without having to purchase more chicks. But if they don’t than that’s what we’ll have to do. Something we’re putting on the back burner for now.

The “chickerdoos” — as I like to call them — really like it when they get moved to a new spot with fresh grass but most of the time they’re not even in it because they’re out doing that “free range” thing! Speaking of free ranging chickens…. these guys really love to move about the homestead. It’s amazing how quickly they can get from one spot to another. One minute they’re next to the garden and the next they’re in the woods. Don’t worry… we’re keeping a close eye on them. We sure can’t afford for any of them to get lost.

Free range chickens on Hickory Hollow Homestead.
Our small – but healthy! – flock free ranging and happy!
(Click image for larger view.)

When they are out of the pen we need to keep the doors closed or the ducks will try to go and eat out of the chicken feeder. We’ve discovered that about late afternoon/early evening the chickens will willingly go into the tractor, eat a bit of feed, and then when it starts to get dark they trot themselves up the ramp to roost for the night.

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