September 2013


Every year, our little town celebrates the harvest with a fall festival.  We went for the first time, which turned out to be a great way to see some of the local artisans and get to know a little more about our city and county.  The kids enjoyed the parade.

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One of the MANY floats.

One of the MANY floats.

After the parade, there were lots of things to do, including a chance for the children to squirt a fire hose.

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They also got to look around inside a fire engine.

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After a good day at the festival, we all headed home, worn out and with smiles on our faces!

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When you have the only working farm in your whole neighborhood, which otherwise consists primarily of retired “city-folk” couples looking for the quiet country life, I suspect it isn’t too hard to get on their bad side.  One way to really make them hate you for disturbing their peace and quiet is to wean calves.

Rib-eye on the right, T-Bone on the left.  Both calves are about 5.5 months old.

Rib-eye on the right, T-Bone on the left. Both calves are about 5.5 months old.

I hadn’t originally planned to wean the calves at all.  Unfortunately, drought has caused our pastures to dry up, the cows are both bred (we hope), and the additional stress of these big boys nursing seemed to be putting added stress on the cows.  With a potentially bitter winter on it’s way, I would rather them put a little extra weight on, rather than lose it to heavy milk production and stress load.  Thus, the decision was made to wean the calves.

I tried to keep things as quiet as possible.  I put the calves in the big barn stall, so they could keep each other company, couldn’t escape, and some of their noise would be absorbed by the barn walls–especially when I closed up the barn at night.  Then, I opened the barn up so the cows could walk right up to the stall and check on the calves, they just couldn’t nurse them.  Furthermore, I planned to lock the cows in the middle area of the barn, right beside the calves’ stall, for the night to hopefully hide as much noise as possible.

Tiffany bawling for her calf.  She's a talker anyway, so this situation only intensified her vocalizing!

Tiffany bawling for her calf. She’s a talker anyway, so this situation only intensified her vocalizing!

The first evening was noisy, and the plan to lock everybody in the barn for the night mostly worked.  I couldn’t hear the noise from inside the house, which was good.  Unfortunately, at some point in the night, Holly, the black cow, broke through the barn doors, and wound up separated not only from her calf, but also from her buddy, Tiffany.  She still had Abbigail, the jersey, and the goats to keep her company outside, but it wasn’t the same.  Thankfully, she isn’t much of a talker, so it wasn’t too bad.

With the somewhat pressurized udders, the next day was exceptionally noisy, so I decided I needed to make ammends with neighbors to stay on their good side.  I went to the garden, gathered some veggies and herbs, made several pretty arrangements, and we went door-to-door to our closest neighbors to apologize, explain what the noise was all about, promise it would be temporary, and leave them with the edible gifts.  It seemed to work well, and we left everyone with a smile on their faces.

Whew!  I’m starting to learn that farming can also require skills in using reverse psychology on the neighbors.  Whenever something comes up, as long as we provide a dozen eggs, fresh-baked bread, some fresh veggies, or some other gift as a peace offering, we don’t get moved to the “bad neighbor” list.  If it goes as planned, maybe the neighbors will start to actually look forward to any strange noise or disruptions to their peace and quiet.  You think?

Anyway, we’ve just finished day 3.  I let the calves into the barn paddock today so they could get some fresh air and sunshine, and so I could clean out their stall.  I don’t like a smelly barn.  I’m also using this time to try to friendly them up a bit so they are more easily handled.  That will come in handy when it comes time for slaughter next summer.   The cows are also housed outside as usual now, and only the calves are in the barn at night.  The bawling has mostly subsided now, which is nice.  They still great each other in the morning, and talk a little in the day, but it isn’t disruptive any longer.

I guess I can check another “First” off my list:  “Learn to wean calves.”

We had a birthday boy this week.  JR turned 9 years old.  Every year, it is increasingly hard to believe how old he is getting, and what a little man he has already become.  Due to our current circumstances, we kept the event small and personal.  It was just our family.  Due to a previous issue, it also had to be a regular school day for the most part.  We just took a long lunch to celebrate.  As usual, he got to choose what type of cake he wanted, and he requested an ice-cream cake.

He also wanted to use our old balloon candles, even though I didn't have 9 of them.

He also wanted to use our old balloon candles, even though I didn’t have 9 of them.

I decided to buy his cake this go around, and the only place in town that sells them is Dairy Queen.  Since we had to go anyway, JR wanted to get lunch there as well.

Now, I have to tell you….THAT was a HARD thing to do.  Although we do eat out on occasion, with the exception of Chick-Fil-A in Colorado (because they actually have meat that looks like real chicken), I haven’t eaten at a fast-food chain in YEARS.  It just comes naturally as part of  our lifestyle to avoid the highly, over-processed foods that are found at most fast-food chains.

In any case, it was his birthday, and our town got a new Dairy Queen not too long ago, and he has wanted to see what all the excitement was about.  So, I reluctantly agreed.   We went, bought lunch, ate, then bought his ice-cream cake, and headed home.  R was a bit of a challenge by that point, so I decided to go ahead and put her down for a nap, but then the rest of us had a little birthday celebration.

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He got to open his presents while S watched on Skype, so he could be part of the deal.  Then, he took his favorite present outside to try it out–a remote-control helicopter.  He’s begged for one for several years now, but our altitude in CO wasn’t conducive to flying one of the beginner models.  He couldn’t have been happier to finally have his wish come true!

You can barely see the helicopter sitting on the box.

You can barely see the helicopter sitting on the box.

You can actually see him fly it if you click this link:       http://youtu.be/Gs5U1-VRe-w

I think Birthday Boy had a good birthday this year.   Happy Birthday, Buddy!!

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In a large family like ours, we have a lot of trash.  Most folks are surprised at the fact that we don’t have that much that goes into a “trash” bag, headed for the landfill, however, what we do have a lot of is the different TYPES of trash.  To avoid filling up landfills–all part of our belief in being stewards of our land–we try to send as little waste as possible to the dump.  Thus, we recycle whatever we can.  Over the years, we have a found a balance by sorting our trash into about 4 different piles: recycle (we can mix all our glass, plastic, cardboard, aluminum, etc. into one bin), paper for recycling or scrap use, paper with personal info for burning, and actual trash (anything that doesn’t fit into the other categories).  Our collection area is our pantry, which is not very large–equivalent to a standard bedroom closet.  With the kiddos “help,” I was finding the floor of my pantry constantly covered in trash due to an inefficient system of grocery sacks hanging on hooks that either dumped or from the kids getting confused which bag was for which trash, or whatever the reason.  I went searching for a better option.  I needed something that would fit into a tiny space, had 4 bins, and was simple and efficient.  I think I’ve found the answer!

Rubbermaid’s 2-in-1 Recycler.  rubbermaid

It’s quite a handy little sorter, actually, and very practical.  First, I took the 4 bins and put photos on each so even the littlest children knew what type of waste went in which bin.

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Since the top two are just papers, I don’t worry about a bag.  If the scrap paper bin gets full, the handy handle allows it to simply be carried to the burn pile or the recycle bin outside.  Likewise, the handle on the other  “burn” paper bin allows the personal papers to be hauled to the fire pit.  The entire paper container simply lifts off the trash bin below it.  Of course, the fact that the bin just nests onto the lower bin means it would knock off pretty easily if bumped, but situated in a closet like ours, out of the way of traffic, it shouldn’t be getting bumped hard regularly.

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I do put a bag in the bottom bins for recycle and trash, which can be wet or messy.  It holds a standard 12-18 gallon bag.  When full, this bin simply slides forward, out of the 3-sided backing section of the contraption.  You don’t even have to lift the top bin off.  The rest of the time, a gentle pull on the handle or step on the foot ledge tips the trash bin forward to deposit trash into it.

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I’m loving these new bins.  They seem to be perfectly suited to our needs.  Although they don’t hold a whole lot, who really wants trash sitting around their house for several days anyway?  The trash and recycle bins will easily fit our entire household trash for a day or two, and the small size makes it very simple for the child responsible for trash duty.  So far, I highly recommend them!

In regard to Bibilical servanthood, it seems there are two types of people.  There are those who see a need and whole-heartedly offer, “Please let me know if I can do anything!”  I am guilty of this one myself.  I am great at offering and am certainly willing to help, but deep down, I also know it is likely the person will never specifically ask.  Which leads to the second type of person–the one who sees a need and just fixes it, or at least helps as best they can.

Prior to us having children of our own, S and I very much enjoyed helping others.  Whether it was impromptu babysitting (at no charge of course, or it wouldn’t be much of an act of service), running an errand for someone, or simply fixing a meal for someone under the weather, we truly found blessing in helping others.   I believe what goes around comes around, though I’m not sure I’ve ever blessed enough people in my whole life to deserve half of the blessings we have graciously received in recent years.  My first really humbling experience happened when I was pregnant with my first child and went into pre-term labor.  I was assigned bed-rest for a month at home.   Day after day, I lay there on the futon, with the computer set up to one side, my scrapbooking stuff within reach on the other side, and a cooler of snacks and food lovingly pack by my husband each morning before he left for work.    As the weeks went by, I felt isolated, discouraged at times, lonely, and I watched the dust bunnies pile up under the futon and the dog hair collect in the corners.  One day, my door opened.  Because I wasn’t allowed to get up except for quick bathroom trips, we actually had posted a sign on the door to “Come On In!” and our friends quickly felt comfortable doing so, so this was nothing new.   On this day, however, there was a quite a commotion made, and before I knew it, 5 ladies appeared in my living room, and I only knew 2 of them.  In each of their hands was some sort of cleaning item–wipes, dusters, brooms, mops, cleaners, whatever.  The strangers were introduced, and I was told essentially, “Sit back, relax, your hubby is coming home to a clean house this evening!”  I cannot express the bitter-sweetness of that moment, as I felt so loved and blessed, while at the same time feeling so embarrassed and humbled in my human weaknesses.  Later, as I relayed this to a close friend and a very Godly mentor, she told me something I will never forget.  She said, “As Christians, in our desire to serve, we can become selfish.  There are times when we are expected to allow others to be blessed by letting THEM serve US.”

Since that time, I have been very busy raising the children, but we have continued to seek opportunities to help.  S, particularly, has spent many hours cutting logs or shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor, caring for a farm so the farmer could have a vacation, encouraging or uplifting folks who may be discouraged, and more.  Sometimes, he is able to take a child or two along with him so they can learn by example.  Even now, during our temporary circumstances, he is using his free time to babysit, help with odd jobs, and just serve others.

Also, since that bed-rest lesson, we have been blessed so many times by others.  In CO, we were blessed with members of our new church helping us prepare our new house for moving day.  We were blessed with random babysitters when something came up suddenly.  We were blessed with wonderful neighbors, friends, and mentors, who gave of their time and resources to help us learn to farm.  We were blessed with an amazing young woman who took the liberty of showing up at our house every Tuesday evening so S and I could have a couple hours together to go to dinner, go for a walk, or just go hang out and talk and spend time as a couple without interruption.  The only payment she would ever accept was some fresh goat milk or a dozen eggs.  She provided this service for over 6 months, and I can’t begin to tell you what a blessing it was to me, personally, and to our marriage.  It came at a very stressful time for us when we were experiencing daily issues with our young boys, therapy and doctor appointments, preparations for a move, and other circumstances that could easily have caused discouragement.  Since moving to IL, I have been blessed by church members who don’t really know me, but have freely given their time and muscle to come help stack hay or mow the lawn.

I thought of all this because of something that happened this evening.  Ever since we moved in, there has been a lurking danger in my pasture.  A few years ago, we had to tear down an old fence line, and the project resulted in roughly 100 large, open post holes running through our pasture, just waiting for an unsuspecting leg to fall in and snap.  I have worried over it, and even ordered the dirt to fill the holes, but I just couldn’t find the time amidst all the other projects to get out there and deal with it.  Then, a couple weeks ago, M stepped in a hole and sprained her ankle, resulting in her limping around on crutches for a few days.  Finally, this week, I mentioned it to a man at church who has a couple of strong, young boys, and I asked if I could hire them for a few hours to do the job.  I gave him my number, and we left it at that.  This evening, I came home from an outing to discover that he and his boys had come out, rummaged through the garage (I assume) for tools, bravely entered my pasture despite the two, massive, barking livestock guardian dogs ( he had met them previously when I was present), were not intimidated by the two bee hives sitting just a few steps from several holes, and they filled every hole in that pasture.  I was so overwhelmed with his act, I almost cried.  It was like a burden was just picked up off my shoulders once again, and carried away to the heavens.  I ran into the house and called him to thank him, and to offer payment, which he refused.  He just explained, “Ah, we had a few hours to spare, so we just ran out and took care of it.  Glad we could help!”

Wow!  I am so humbled, and so amazed at what a true, Godly, servant’s heart can do.  I pray I never forget the blessing I have received, and more importantly, I pray that I can decrease my verbal offerings of “Let me know if I can help!” and increase my awareness of needs and be a type of person who just jumps in with both feet, and physically helps someone who needs it.

 

I mentioned in a previous post (or 5) that a major challenge of this move has been the fact that we downsized from a 2400 sq.foot house to a 1600 sq. ft (plus basement) home.  We took our family of 7 from a 4 bedroom home to a 3 bedroom.  And, most challenging of all, we moved our rather extensive homeschool and personal library from a home with lots of storage to a home that had almost none.  Ever wonder what that might look like?  Yeah, I’m ashamed to admit, most of our summer involved our loft looking like this:

Rail side of loft, before....

Rail side of loft, before….

Window side of loft, before....

Window side of loft, before….

Yeah, that’s our boxes and books piled up on the floor, with hardly a trail to find what we needed.  You can’t see the makeshift box and card table set-up in the left corner for the computer and printer.  It was an unorganized mess, and I needed a plan, fast.  (For the record, that branch-type arch on the far wall was painted on as a faux headboard by the last owner.  It’s still there.  I will get around to painting it one day, but that’s pretty low on the priority list right now.)  With school starting in the near future, I had to get that space functional and organized.  Thus, I sat down with my drawing pad, came up with ideas, figured out a plan, and started to work on it.

First, I needed a plan for all the stuff, so I decided to build shelves in the hallway outside the loft.  Although the hall shelves actually went up AFTER the loft project, it was still a critical part of getting the final result:

I have to add one more shelf on the bottom before this project is complete, but you get the idea.  The decorating part is thanks to my mom.

I have to add one more shelf on the bottom before this project is complete, but you get the idea. The decorating part is thanks to my mom.

Once I got stuff out of the way, though, I was able to start building in the loft.  This was by far my most challenging project yet, as I wanted to build a wall-mounted counter/desk area.  It had to be built in place, though, which was a much bigger deal than I originally anticipated.  After having to start over on the project twice, I called in a relative who has made a career and a retirement out of his building skills.  He came and rescued me (and my loft).  I told him what I wanted, showed him how far I had gotten, he made a few changes and finished the rest of the building.  Then, I had to go back and fill gaps with wood putty, sand everything as smooth as I could (let’s just say it’s a good thing I like the “rough-cut” look and feel!), and stain the whole thing.  After several weeks of work though, I am absolutely thrilled with the final result:

....The railing side of the loft, after.

….The railing side of the loft, after.

...The window side of the loft, after.

…The window side of the loft, after.

I designed the counter to wrap around three walls of the loft.  The left side has the computer and printer, the center area also has 2 shelves for the boys’ school stuff, and the far wall has 2 more shelves and more counter space for additional school and activity storage.  The counter space beneath each window serves as individual desks for the boys.  In this photo, you can also see a TV table in front of N, as, until I find another chair like A has, N is too short to color on the new desk.  So, he uses the TV table for his worksheets instead.  The boys are in different grades, K4 and K5, and each have their own DVD player, class programs, and so forth.  As a result, they wear ear phones to help with their focus, and it seems to work pretty well so far.  If there is likely to be a lot of distractions in a lesson one day, then I always have the option of putting one of the boys at my desk outside the loft, or downstairs at the table.  For the most part, though, this setup works, allowing me to sit and read a book, do some paperwork, or work on the computer, all while monitoring their school day.  Most mornings, R sits beside N and does some of his easier K4 lessons with him.

I still have a bit of tweaking to do to totally finish this area–cord control, a little lamp/reading table by the lounger, painting those faux headboards (there is a second one behind the computer area), etc.  I’ll also be dusting and wiping this area for months before I will get the dust that still remains after the sanding job.  Oh well.  I just love this area, though, and since school has started, it’s a good thing since I likely now spend more time here than anywhere else.

JR got to act like a little prince recently–or at least as close as he’ll probably ever come to doing so.  Nana, my mom, came to stay for a while, in part because she had plans to attend a wedding in Chicago anyway.  My cousin was getting married, and since our extended family on that side is quite small, she wanted to support him.  I was unable to leave the farm for the 2 days it would take, so instead, the parents of the groom (my mom’s brother and sister-and-law) granted permission for her to bring JR as her date.  They had met him in the past, and knew he could be trusted to behave.  That fact sure makes this mama proud!

Mind you, this was a VERY formal wedding and reception event.  Except for the flower girl and ring bearer, he was the only child in attendance.  We had to go shopping the week before for a suit and nice shoes for him.  Boy, he did turn out sharp looking, though!

A personal moment of reflection......ok, ok, he's probably wondering whether jumping into the pool would be worth the trouble he'd be in afterward!

A personal moment of reflection……ok, ok, he’s probably wondering whether jumping into the pool would be worth the trouble he’d be in afterward!

Unfortunately, Nana didn’t get many photos, and none of him with the bride and groom.  Nonetheless, here’s a few memories of the day….

JR with Uncle S (my brother) and Nana

JR with Uncle S (my brother) and Nana

JR with Uncle S and Aunt P

JR with Uncle S and Aunt P

My little prince.

My little prince.

After the wedding and reception, Nana and JR went to a hotel for the night, and the next morning, Nana decided to splurge on a day together.  She took him to the Brookfield Zoo outside Chicago, to the aquarium, and to the dinosaur park.

You can take the boy out of the country, but you'll never get the country out of my boy!

You can take the boy out of the country, but you’ll never get the country out of my boy!  Here he is in his normal “cowboy” attire outside the Brookfield Zoo.

He loved seeing the dolphin performance at the aquarium.

He loved seeing the dolphin performance at the aquarium.

His favorite, by far, though, was the dinosaur exhibit.  He loved all those life-sized dino's, particularly the robotic ones.

His favorite, by far, though, was the dinosaur exhibit. He loved all those life-sized dino’s, particularly the robotic ones.

Being goofy.

Being goofy.

Taking a breather....

Taking a breather….

...though I think Nana was the one that was really worn out by the end of the day!

…though I think Nana was the one that was really worn out by the end of the day!

JR had an amazing time.  He felt so grown up eating at a formal reception, then having a whole day by himself with Nana.  He still talks about the dinosaurs.  I fear Nana may have set a pretty high standard for how to spend one-on-one time together!

Over Labor Day weekend, we harvested our first meat birds and rabbits since we moved.  We actually decided, based on our future goals, to go ahead and invest in a Featherman Pro poultry plucker.  Oh, that is worth its weight in gold!!  Not just because I may never have to pluck another chicken, but some of its features make plucking and clean up so much easier than the Whiz-bang version we used last year.    We are hoping to rent it out a bit in addition to using it around here to help pay for it.

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We harvested 25 chickens, start to freezer, in 3 hours.  I know that’s pretty bad compared to the pros, but considering we were having to figure things out and use a lot of make-shift and new equipment this year, as well as a new location entirely, we were pretty happy with it.

In addition, S and JR harvested his 5 kits born shortly after we moved.  JR has watched many times, and assisted a few times.  Since the rabbits are technically JR’s venture on the farm, S decided it was high time he take the next step in his little rabbit business.  So, S instructed JR on the first rabbit, and, except for the dispatching, JR did the next 4 almost entirely by himself.  He was so proud, and being the perfectionist he is (yeah, he gets that from me), he did an excellent job!

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Hanging and cutting around the vent

Skinning was a little tough....

Skinning was a little tough….

...but JR got the hang of it pretty quickly.

…but JR got the hang of it pretty quickly.

Nothing makes a boy feel like a man more than eviscerating.  Good thing I'm a woman, as I am more than happy to hand that job off to the men!

Nothing makes a boy feel like a man more than eviscerating. Good thing I’m a woman, as I am more than happy to hand that job off to the men!

The finished, frozen results of the day--shrink bags full of chicken (on left) and rabbit (on right).

The finished, frozen results of the day–shrink bags full of chicken (on left) and rabbit (on right).

Although we stayed small this year due to all the changes, we hope to increase our chicken and rabbit raising and processing venture substantially next year.  I am thrilled to report that it looks like we FINALLY have found an organic rabbit pellet, which we now have on order, so our entire farm will be only grass or all natural/organically fed.  We will work on all the necessary permits over the winter, but at this point, we are planning 3 separate batches of chicken, a batch of turkeys, and at least 5 batches of rabbits.  Based on inquiries I’ve already had, I am hoping they will all be pre-reserved quickly.  If you are local to our area in IL and are interested in reserving some for your family, let me know via the comments feature, and I will get in touch with you.

Last year, we installed 4,000 gallon cisterns and connected those to the house.  You can read more about that here.  In addition, we set up temporary drain pipes (the ugly black things you’ll spot laying on the ground in some of these photos below).  We quickly learned that we seriously under-calculated our cisterns.  We calculated our water needs, rather than the potential amounts we could collect.  We should have gone 50%, if not twice, as much capacity.  Oh well.  Our cisterns have proven they’ll last about 4-5 weeks.

We recently took the next step to having a fully functional rain collection system.  First, we had our 20-something year old, rotting shingles replaced with Galvalum metal roofing.  A roofer came out and put the roof on, and then we had our gutter system completely re-designed.  Mind you, the aesthetics of this is still growing on me, but seeing as how we had to work with the house we already had, I think it turned out pretty good.

In order to collect as much rain as possible, we added a few extra gutters on areas of the gable where rain might have a tendency to run over the edge instead of downward.  This outside gable is one example, and thus got it's own downspout as well.

In order to collect as much rain as possible, we added a few extra gutters on areas of the gable where rain might have a tendency to run over the edge instead of downward. This outside gable is one example, and thus got it’s own downspout as well.  The downspout then runs along under each of the windows, with just enough of a slope to make it work. 

The next three downspouts are on the inside gable (to prevent water damage to the siding under the inside gable), coming off the front porch, and coming off the upper level roof.  All 4 downspouts meet on the wall, and run along together to the back-up cistern we added.

The next three downspouts are on the inside gable (to prevent water damage to the siding under the inside gable), coming off the front porch, and coming off the upper level roof. All 4 downspouts meet on the wall, and run along together to the back-up cistern we added.

Back of the house, with a downspout off one part of the main roof, another off the gable, and third off the another part of the main roof.  Those three meet up and run together along the back of the house.  You can the brown diagonal line on the siding here, where the old gutter downspout ran.  There is less slope on these new ones, but they still meet code and look better.

Back of the house, with a downspout off one part of the main roof, another off the gable, and third off the another part of the main roof. Those three meet up and run together along the back of the house. You can the brown diagonal line on the siding here, where the old gutter downspout ran. There is less slope on these new ones, but they still meet code and look better.

The back downspouts come around the corner, and run along the side of the house, where they meet up with a final downspout on this far side.

The back downspouts come around the corner, and run along the side of the house, where they meet up with a final downspout on this far side.

Then there's the octopus of downspouts, all connecting into this new, above ground tank (actually, the tank was leftover from a previous water project--it's just new to this project).

Then there’s the octopus of downspouts, all connecting into this new, above ground tank (actually, the tank was leftover from a previous water project–it’s just new to this project).

Another view of the connection.

Another view of the connection.

This is the part that really is not aesthetically pleasing.  To try to prevent the mess of downspouts at the tank, we discussed adding y-type intersections where gutters could join together, but opted against it.  If we were to have a very heavy downpour (you know, the inch an hour type that Colorado is getting right now, and which is common in IL), then the Y would serve as a bottleneck, and potentially cause a backup of water, which would ultimately overflow the gutters.  Not a good idea.  Thus, we had to find a way to connect each gutter downspout separately to the cisterns.  The gutter guys simply cut 8 holes in the top of the tank, inserted the downspouts just enough to keep them in there, and then put a sealant around them.  That being said, the long term plan is to enclose this area, both to hide the ugliness and the tank, and to shield the tank from the sun to prevent algae growth.

Also in the not-to-distant future, this tank will serve two purposes.  First, it adds about 800 gallons of water storage, which I’m sure will come in handy.  Secondly, S is studying a primitive filter system using gravel and sand, which we will be setting up in this tank.  Therefore, all water going in to this tank will be filtered before entering the main, underground tanks.

Up close and personal, I admit, it’s a bit awkward and odd looking.  From a distance though, it really isn’t too bad.  They did a good job of matching up the gutter color to the house color.  I believe once we get the place landscaped and the side shelter built, it will look SOO much better.  I’m looking forward to that!  In the mean time though, we can now collect every drop of water possible to help sustain us throughout the year.

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At Red Gate Farm, we value every single life.  We treat our animals with love, respect, appreciation, and stewardship.  Even those designated to be our dinner one day are given the best life we can manage to ensure their health, happiness, and allow their instinctive behaviors.  That being said, we are also a practical, frugal farm.  From that perspective, everything must be designated a monetary value that helps determine it’s value to us.  This helps in the rare times a medical situation arises.  If a vet bill would cost more than that animal’s designated value, then we don’t call the vet.  I either use home remedies, or we put the animal down humanely to eliminate suffering.

Recently, we were losing some of our chickens–both big layers and our smaller replacement pullets.  Leftover feathers suggested they were being taken when they ducked under the fence to forage in the woods, and the dogs can’t protect them out there.  One day, I walked into the barn to discover Iris, our livestock guardian dog, with a young pullet between her front paws.  The pullet was just laying there, and looked as though it had been licked a few times, but as soon as I called Iris off, the pullet ran off and began acting like a normal chicken.  Upon closer inspection, however, we discovered the skin covering the pullet’s entire breast was ripped completely open, leaving her crop and breast muscles totally exposed.  There was no blood, and nothing hanging out.  It was like a skilled surgeon had sliced open the skin from top to bottom, an incision about 3 inches long, gently peeled the skin back to each side, and there was the breast bone, muscles, and crop all sitting there, ready for the next step.  It was completely bloodless.  My first thought was that we were down another chicken, as there wasn’t much I could do for such an injury.  Around our farm, as much as we like our animals, a chicken is valued at a maximum of $20 (what we sell good layers or meat birds for).  Seeing as our vet charges almost $50 just for the farm call, we don’t call a vet for a chicken.  Instead, I stood there watching this pullet for a bit, as she ran around the barn, pecking for food, drinking water, and acting completely normal.  It didn’t look like she was suffering at all.  I knew such a wound was wide open to infection (literally), so even if the injury didn’t kill her, the infection would.  I also had trouble with the idea of dispatching her since she seemed fine otherwise.  Then, I remembered some stories I had read years ago in the James Herriot (a British veterinarian) books about crude home treatments that had worked.  I figured I had nothing to lose but a chicken, and it could be invaluable learning experience.

Now, mind you, I believe God blessed chickens (and a few other animals) with fewer pain receptors than humans.  I’ve never read anything to support that, but chickens seem far more vulnerable to having a heart attack from fright than reacting from pain.  I went into the house and got a sewing needle and some cotton thread (in the hopes cotton would be easily dissolvable by the body).  I got some Scarlet-X antiseptic spray I always keep on hand for injuries to the larger animals.  JR held the chicken, I cleaned all debris out of it’s open chest, sprayed the muscle with the antiseptic spray, pulled the skin together, and proceeded to sew it up.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take any pictures until after I was finished.

You can just see the vertical line where the skin joins together, a bit of proud flesh at top and bottom, and if you look really closely, the pretty pink cotton thread.

You can just see the vertical line where the skin joins together, a bit of proud flesh at top and bottom, and if you look really closely, the pretty pink cotton thread.

Amazingly, the pullet just layed there for the entire procedure–never struggling once.  I thought sure she’d be dead by morning.  Nonetheless, as a precaution, I sprayed a bit more antiseptic on her wound after I finished suturing, then turned her loose to run with the other chicks.  Roughly 3 weeks later, the pullet is still foraging happily in our fields. Only the closest inspection, in just the right spot, will reveal any sign of what she went through.

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I am still puzzled as to what transpired the day of her injury.  Although Iris looked awfully guilty, she has never killed, or even played with one of our chickens before, and I know we were losing them to something in the woods.  We have had one other episode where a full-size hen was attacked by something (again no marks, but lots of feathers on the ground indicating a struggle) outside the fence, ran back into the pasture, and died.  All I can figure is one of two scenarios.  Either Iris decided to play with the pullet, and possibly ripped the skin with her dew claw, or perhaps the pullet was attacked by something outside, ran back into the field, and Iris found it and was protecting it when I found her.  I guess I’ll never know, but I can’t believe my home treatment actually seems to have worked so beautifully!  I think I will be ordering real suture material if possible with my next supply order.  You never know what might come up!

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