April 2014

If there is a creek to be found, our boys will likely find it.  It just happens that our property has several spots where the boys can easily climb down the trails and play in the mud.  During a recent adventure, they discovered more than water and mud.


JR came home, asking if I would cook his find up for dinner.  I politely declined.  My adventurous side has its limits.  I don’t even like lobster that much.  Crayfish, or “crawdad’s” as we like to say, are a little too cock-roach looking to me.  S, on the other hand, was willing, and told JR that if he could catch at least 10 or so, he would cook them up for dinner.  To JR’s dismay, this one little guy was the only one found that day, so he eventually released it.  Now he is busy planning his next crayfish hunt.


….well, actually, 7-year-old M can see clearly now.


Several weeks ago, M began complaining about her vision and not being able to see well.  We pointed out things throughout the day, and were puzzled that, sometimes she could see them fine, and other days she seemed to have trouble.  I took her to an optometrist, assuming maybe she was near-sighted like me.  As it turned out, she can see just fine.  In fact, she has perfect vision.  We discovered, however, that she is somewhat cross-eyed.  It isn’t noticeable except to her.  Essentially, when her eyes get tired, they begin to drift inward, causing her lose focus.  Thus, she was prescribed what basically amounts to reading glasses.  The rule is that she has wear them anytime she is looking at something that is close enough for her to reach out and touch (like when doing school or reading books).  If it’s further than that, she doesn’t need her glasses.  The glasses simply reduce the strain on her eye, preventing them from drifting and losing focus.  So far so good, and she loves her new look!

Since bringing our new boys home, we’ve been working hard to find ways to keep them working.  We have been testing them out in different environments, gradually working our way towards going all the way to town.  Recently, we accomplished one of our final obstacles–“the” bridge.  We have a rather long, roughly 1/3 mile, bridge between us and a major highway that then takes us into town.  The bridge not only has that hollow bridge sound (which horses don’t generally like), but it has low concrete barriers overlooking the drop off into the river.  The asphalt changes color about 3 times as you cross the bridge (which horses don’t like), and there are 3 large, metal expansion joints as you across.


The day finally came to try.  The first time, I went alone in the wagon–just in case.  To be extra safe, S actually drove in front of me, just in case the team spooked, he could do…..something…to keep us from being run over by a semi should they run right into the main highway.  As it turned out, though, his services weren’t needed.  The boys couldn’t have cared less about the bridge.  The different surfaces caused them to do a double take, but that was about it.  The expansion joints were the only thing that got their attention, but once across, they recovered and walked as if nothing had just happened.  We crossed the bridge, turned around, and went back across to go home.  On the way back, however, the sun was at a different angle, reflecting off the joints, which really concerned the horses.  Nonetheless, we made it with only a bit of hesitation.


The next time we went, we decided to go further, and actually drive up the main highway a bit, before turning off to go to a local park.  Again, just in case, I drove alone until we crossed the bridge.  S met me on the other side, where he and the kids jumped on board.  We took a trip to the park, where the horses (and I) got to practice waiting patiently while the kids played.  Rule #1 of driving horses is to NEVER let go of the lines, and rule #2 is to stay on the horse-drawn vehicle whenever the horses are hitched.  Should a hitched horse spook, you can’t outrun them, but as long as you are on board and holding the lines, there is a good chance you can prevent a spook from getting out of hand.  So, that’s what we did.  Only they never spooked.  And frankly, I rather enjoyed myself.


Finally, we headed the 2 or so miles back home, with hardly a hesitation at the expansion joints.  I expect the next trip will only get better.




One day, when we actually have a 1/2 day to spare, we will actually drive to town.  We just haven’t figured out when that will be.  The only thing stopping us is our lack of free time to do such things.  It’ll come, though.  Our list of big projects is winding down, so hopefully sooner than later.


We’ve been putting our boys to work around here, doing some very selective logging of our forests.


Logging with draft power has many advantages.  Horses can maneuver and squeeze into rather tight areas that a truck or mechanical logging equipment never could.  For this reason, land does not have to be clear-cut to remove a handful of very desirable trees.  We can go in as stewards of our land, select trees that are dead, dying, overly mature, clusters that are too thick, etc., cut only those trees, and have the horses haul them out.  The result is land that much prettier, purer, and still appears natural, as opposed to looking like an explosion took place and left everything looking ugly and dead for several years.  Another advantage is that horses leave a smaller footprint–not literally speaking, as their hooves and actual footprints are quite large, actually, but metaphorically speaking in terms of being “green” and earth friendly.  The horses do not compact the soil like the large machinery does, and rather than pollute the remaining trees with exhaust smoke and petroleum fumes, the only waste the horses might leave behind is a pile of manure that will simply serve to fertilize the soils.  It really is a beautiful thing.

For us, it is still a 2-man job.  We are mainly collecting still-usable downed logs from the edges of the timberland for the most part, to either mill or turn into firewood for next winter.  We haven’t gotten to the cutting of standing trees yet.  We plan to do more of that later this summer when other projects are completed.  S isn’t quite comfortable doing the tight squeeze turn-arounds yet, and is still practicing his driving skills.  I, on the other hand, am not good at lifting the heavy logging hook and attaching it to the bigger logs (the thing must weigh 60 lbs plus the evener and chains!).  In addition, when the horses are fresh, they aren’t perfect at standing still and waiting while we get it right, and risk stepping over their trace chains.  So, for now, we log together.  I do most of the driving and focus on the horses, while S does the land/trail prep work and handles the logging equipment.  Also, if we happen to get ourselves in a bind (which we have a couple of times), then it is nice to have help around!

For your viewing pleasure, here is a video S took earlier this week.  We had to haul a stack of fenceposts from the pasture to the barn for stacking.  There was a very tight turn at the end to get them where we wanted them and out of the way for vehicles.

We looked at our budget and chicken expenses for the last several years, and we looked at our goals for the future.  One of our big animal expenditures was purchasing layer chicks each year.  It was also one LESS thing we were doing that moved us toward God-sufficiency in our lifestyle.  Thus, we decided to take the plunge into hatching our own chicks.  Instead of purchasing our planned batch of layers this spring, we used the money to buy a nice, 50-egg incubator.  After lots of research (what else is new?) and a number of phone calls to ask questions, we settled on the Hova-Bator incubator with circulating air fan and egg-turner.  Next, we stole about 21 eggs from our layers over a few days.  One Saturday afternoon, we placed them all in the incubator.  The below photo is actually the day before they hatched, so the egg turner had already been removed.


After 5 days, we candled them, using the incredibly inexpensive, all-purpose, highly modern…..flashlight.  Whatever works, right?  We were able to see the air cell, the yolk, and in most cases, a little chick embryo.  2 eggs were clearly not fertile, and 1 egg had an early demise (indicated by a reddish ring around what started as an embryo).   That left 18 eggs.

We then candled roughly once a week, added water to the humidifier tray every 2-3 days, tried to maintain a constant temperature, and hoped for the best.

On day 20, about 4 in the morning, we heard peeping.  One perfect little chick had hatched, but was very weak and clumsy.  He couldn’t stay upright.  We tried a few things, but eventually moved him out and into the brooder, where he later died.  I think he was, literally, a premie, who just couldn’t thrive.


On day 21, as scheduled, 16 eggs pipped (made a hole in the shell to start the hatching process).  One at a time, they began hatching.  This lasted over 24 hours.  Finally, around mid-day on day 23, we removed all chicks from the incubator.  The final result was 15 healthy, happy chicks, 1 chick that died after pipping, 2 chicks that died about a week before hatch (they still had their yolk sack attached).  The kids had a fun biology lesson cracking those 3 open to see what was inside.

If you look closely, you can see of the other eggs that are pipped.

If you look closely, you can see of the other eggs that are pipped.

This was several weeks ago, and the 15 chicks are still alive, well, and beginning to feather.  We have no idea yet if we got hens or roosters, but I am assuming it will be a standard 50/50 for the most part.  We did learn, however, that the feathered-leg trait is dominant.  Our rooster is a feather-legged Dark Brahma, and the hens were a mix feather-legged and clean-legged breeds.   All chicks are feather-legged.  We found it interesting. We also got at least one pure Brahma (our favorite), though it is a cross between light and dark.  We are looking forward to our next hatch, and quite thrilled that we had about a 78% hatch rate (15 out of 19 fertile eggs), which is apparently above the desired 70% that the “pros” consider ideal.


Our first meat birds of the year moved out of the brooder and into the chicken tractor this week.  It was a greatly desired move, as meat birds just smell, and short of adding fresh bedding to the brooder more than twice a day, there isn’t much else we can do about it.  They still smell a bit on pasture, but the breeze, the daily moves to fresh grass, and the natural soil decomposition process helps control it much better.


These chicks are only about 3.5 weeks old, so it is still a bit cool outside for them be able to regulate their body temperatures.  They have more muscle than standard breeds at that age, which helps, but it is still a big risk.  To minimize our risk, I installed heat lamps in the tractor temporarily, and we give them fresh straw or hay under the lamps to give them a dry place to lay in wet weather.  In addition, if it is windy or cool, we have a clear plastic sheet over most of the open front to provide a bit of greenhouse-effect heating and reduce any chilling by wind, while still allowing sunshine to penetrate.  The sides are left partially open to ensure plentiful ventilation.  So far, so good.  The chicks seem very happy, and since this move also means they are being watered via our 5-gallon bucket gravity-drip system, it means I am also very happy to have my twice daily water-container cleaning chores eliminated.

If you are concerned about the crowded look of this tractor, this is actually planned for several reasons.  First, meat birds don’t walk and move around like standard breed chickens.  The eat, sleep, and poop, and not necessarily in that order.  They usually lay down as they eat, and they poop where they lay.  They get up only when they have to.  To encourage some exercise, we position their water, food, and the heat lamp in different areas, so they are forced to move around if they want sunshine, food, water, or warmth.  It’s like trying to get the worst couch potato you know to exercise!! No easy task.  They simply don’t need a whole lot of space to move.  We also supplement that limited space by moving them daily to new ground.  By moving the tractor to fresh ground each day the birds always have fresh air and sunshine, green grass, bugs, and soil to scratch and peck at, as well as clean lounging areas.  These frequent moves mean we don’t have to use any type of preventative antibiotics or “crutches” to keep the birds healthy.  We simply supply them with a well-balanced diet and some grit, and nature provides everything else they need. The fresh bugs and greens also encourages them to walk around a bit more than they might otherwise.  Because there are currently almost 70 chicks in the 36 sq ft tractor, it will become crowded quickly.  Right now, in the cool weather, it is safer to keep them together for increased body heat.  In the next week or two, however, we will be splitting them into 3 groups, with each group getting 36 sq ft.  This will allow their personal space to expand as they grow, further ensuring health and exercise.


Our new “Rabbitat” is coming together.  That’s the name we’ve chosen for the rabbit yard we are building.  We still have a lot to do before calling it “finished,” but it is progressing.  This week, I got the perimeter fencing up.  We wanted something that would blend into the landscape, keep rabbits out, and be easy for JR to get in and out of.  S found 2 foot tall rabbit-fence, designed to keep rabbits out of gardens.  We figured we’d try it.


You can barely see it in the photo.  If you look closely (toward the bottom center of the photo), the bottom foot of the fence has small 1 inch mesh, perfect for keeping the young, weaned kits in.  The upper portion is just a deterrent to the bigger rabbits.  Could they jump it?  They probably could, but I think it is highly unlikely.  We stretched this wire out for 30 foot sides, and a 30 foot center dividing wall between the two yards, and each yard is 15 foot wide.  Although it currently has T-posts, which can see in the photo, that is temporary.  Eventually, we will either replace those with something shorter or cut them off at the 2 foot height.  We just want to make sure this fence will work first.  The height meant we didn’t have to create a gate.  It is tall enough to keep really little kiddos out, but short enough that JR and adults can easily step right over.

The bunnies love it.  JR has already taken a few out to exercise, and they romped, dug in the dirt, ran around, and literally leapt for joy.  They loved being out!  Since the yard isn’t yet rabbit-tight, they can only play while supervised.  When JR tries to catch the normally-easy-to-catch bunnies, they aren’t so thrilled about it!  They would much rather stay out and play!  In time.


Last week, the time finally arrived for us to meet our new horses.  We hooked up the trailer and drove to The Farm at Prophetstown in Indiana, where we met up with Dris Abraham, owner of RX Acres Belgians.  We have been communicating with Dris at length for about 6 months now, in preparation for this occasion.  We had arranged a private, 3-day clinic with Dris, where we would build on the driving clinics we attended last year in CO, learn some new techniques, and meet our team.

We had a blast!  We literally arrived and were harnessing horses within 15 minutes.  We didn’t even get to unload the suitcases from our truck until after 9 pm!  Dris had us driving farm implements and cultimulching his fields all afternoon.  We also had to assist with farm chores, but this allowed us to handle about 12 different Belgians under different circumstances, which was great experience.  The next day was spent harnessing, unharnessing, hitching, unhitching, ground driving, backing into tight spaces, and really getting a feel for driving.  It felt a little like boot camp, but without the yelling.  It was exhausting and invigorating all at the same time!  Our final day was spent really testing our new skills and our team.  We took to the trails, encountered some really spooky things (you know, things like tree trunks, scarecrows, bridges, and dogs) to learn how to handle different situations.  We did encounter a few issues–like when our trace chain suddenly popped off the singletree for unknown reasons.  For the record, this a VERY bad thing to have happen!  Thankfully, as soon as the horse felt it, he jumped, then stopped immediately when I told him.  Finally, we finished up with some logging exercises to get us familiar with the techniques we would need to log our woodlands.


Since we got home, we have been harnessing them daily and having a great time.  We have hooked up to our wagon, pulled logs, and toured the neighborhood.  We even gave a horse-loving neighbor a ride in the wagon today.  These horses are incredible, and everything about them impresses us–their size (18 hands to be exact!–that’s 6 feet tall at the withers!), their beauty, their condition, their calm demeanors, their excellent training, their desire to please, their sheer power–everything!  We are dreaming up all sorts of things we can do with these boys.  They absolutely love to work, and we are making big plans to keep them busy.


Here’s a great photo of a friend with the horses, just to show you their size.  I have neglected to get a good one of use with the horses, so I will have to work on that.  We’ve just been too busy having fun with them.