Sunday Homestead Update – More Adventures with Guinea Fowl

We spent last week unexpectedly in the hospital and this week with homecare stuff for our son. This was his 25th surgery – he is 6 years old and has a very rare liver disorder that causes him to get infections and sepsis. It came on very fast this time, like last time, and got life-threatening within 12 hours. He was fine one day and in emergency surgery the next. It never gets easier. It is familiar, VERY familiar, but not easier. One thing that was easier was that we live so much closer to the pediatric hospital now. That was easier and we were glad for it. We are now in recovery mode and trying to transition back into our life around the homestead as cold weather is starting to set in here.

Guinea Fowl

The guinea fowl have been the main topic of conversation around the homestead the last couple of weeks. They have been getting into trouble lately and causing us extra work. Everything was going well, as I said the last time I discussed them, and they were hanging out around the property and putting themselves to bed in the coop each night. Then one day we didn’t see them at all for the whole day. Late afternoon our neighbor pulled in to ask if we had lost some guinea fowl because they were all over at his place. We headed over and there they were – apparently in love with their turkey. The neighbor has some chickens and a duck and a turkey all living together, and the guineas had zeroed in on the turkey, and the turkey seemed happy about it too. Maybe it was the naked heads? LOL. So we herded them back over to our place and put them to bed for the night, hoping it was a one-time thing. Of course it wasn’t, and they continued to head straight over to their turkey friend every morning when we let them out. We would herd them back in the evening and put them to bed. The interesting thing was they didn’t have access to water over there, the only water they could get was in their coop, and each night they drank and drank like crazy when we brought them home. I was surprised they wouldn’t be drawn back to the water on their own out of sheer desperation. We decided to see if they would come home on their own for the water and the roost at night, so one night we didn’t herd them back. Nope, they slept over outside the house of their turkey friend. Sigh.

Our plan is to fully fence the entire perimeter of the property with field fencing to keep the predators (stray dogs, coyotes, etc) out and our sheep/goats/livestock and dogs in. We finished two of the four sides of the perimeter this summer, but haven’t finished the rest. When we herded the guineas home from the neighbor’s, they were going through a 4-wire barbed-wire fence and every time we got to it they acted like they couldn’t get through. They had no problem going through in the morning headed to their friend, but when we were trying to herd them back home at night it is apparently a solid wall to them with no way around. So we decided that if they are that silly about just a wire fence, then maybe if we put up the field fence across that neighbor’s side it would keep them home. Yes, they can fly over it, but they are kind of weird about flying over things and don’t seem to like to do it. So we were hopeful. Young man spent two days fencing that line for us, and sure enough – it worked! The guineas stopped visiting the turkey at the neighbors house.

As they were now staying on the property, they started hanging out over in the ewe barn area, where some of the sheep, goats, and the livestock guardian dog (LGD) are living right now. One day, when they came back to the poultry barn late afternoon, there were only 7 of them, instead of 8. When we went to do barn chores we found the remains of the 8th one – just feathers – in the ewe barn area. The LGD in that pen has lived with chickens for years and not killed them. We are assuming she saw the guineas as wild birds, not like the chickens she guards, because they live outside her fence and they act wild and different. So when one of them somehow got in there with her, she killed it. Sigh.

We figured that watching their guinea-friend get killed would keep them away from that area, but nope. They still head over there and hang out along the fence lines. So we have started training the LGD that they are like chickens and not to kill them. Thus far, they have stayed out of the pen, and thus far, we have not lost any more. Though I don’t think the LGD is trustworthy enough yet as far as the guineas are concerned to not kill another if they chose to go in with her. But we will continue working on it.

Heritage Arts

Adjustable hemmer foot – where have you been all my life?!?!? Have you ever heard of or seen an adjustable hemmer foot? I never had, though I desperately wish I had all these years of sewing. My antique Singer treadle machine came with a few different feet, of which I could not recognize even one. Well it turns out that one of them is super useful and now my favorite sewing tool. As I was working on the aprons for my sisters I discovered this gem. You set the measurement on it to the size of hem you want, and then you feed the fabric into it folded at the hem and as it runs through it, the foot folds the edge under just a little and sews it just perfectly along the edge. Creating a perfectly beautiful hem every time!!!

If you like to sew clothes, aprons, curtains, anything with a hem, and haven’t used one of these yet – get your hands on one! I know they make them for modern machines too, because I looked it up since I had never heard of them before. It can be tricky to figure it out at first, but after playing with it on a few scraps of fabric I got it going and it worked great.

I have finished all the aprons for my sisters and now consider myself completely adept with the treadle machine. It doesn’t feel foreign anymore – treadling just comes naturally now. I love it! It took one lap quilt and three aprons to fully get the hang of it. It was totally worth it and I am enjoying using it for most of my sewing now. There have been a few things I have brought out my modern electric machine for – button holes (and other zig-zagging), and quilting (because the antique machine can’t handle the thickness). Other than that, this machine is my go-to machine now.

Sunday Homestead Update – One Man’s Maggot is Another Man’s…

…chicken food! Yup, we are having some maggot issues and the answer is – CHICKENS! At our previous farm the chicken coop opened into the shared barnyard where all the livestock lived. We dumped the compost and all the stall clean-out into a couple of big piles in the barnyard and the chickens worked through it for us, turning it and removing unwanted pests. They also worked through the stalls, which were deep-bedded for the sheep. The chickens picking through the stalls daily kept maggots away and flies down.

The new farm is not set up in a way to have the chickens living with the livestock like that. So we have been struggling with maggots in the sheep bedding. Deep bedding without the chickens to work through it does not work for sheep, since they are especially vulnerable to fly strike. We do not want them sleeping in bedding that has maggots. And really – no animal should sleep in bedding that has maggots. So we have had to bed them differently and clean their stalls more often. All that dirty bedding is going into the chicken pen to be worked on by our chickens.

But, ultimately, we like the idea of them living together better. So our brains are at work thinking about exactly how we want to go about getting a flock out in the ewe barn. Current thoughts include a smaller coop hooked to the back of the barn, and moving the 7 young hens we currently have in with the bantams (because the broody hen that raised them lives there) out there with the sheep. Plus, buying a young rooster from our neighbor to go with those hens. This would get some chickens out there, it would also save me the hassle of integrating those hens in with the other flock, and it would provide me with a new, separate breeding flock for my genetics.

We are busy with other projects right now, but hopefully, this project will become a reality in the next month or so.

Frost

We had our first frosts this week, and some sleet/hail/snow stuff fell from the sky. It was super windy at the time, so we had ice sheets on the storm doors. We are still learning the weather at the new location. It is very different.

Heritage Arts

My journey with my antique treadle machine continues to be very enjoyable. I really love it! Now that I have finished the quilt (easy, straight lines, lots of starts and stops, plus some long straight lines), I decided to move on to something with different skills. I found some of my grandmother’s fabric and decided to make aprons for my mom and sisters from it. I sent them all photos of the different fabrics and different pattern options and they sent back what they wanted. It will be fun and special for them each to have an apron made from fabric that reminds them of our Nana.

I got the first one done this week. It was the easiest of all of them. It involved tighter curves, long stretches of curves, several layers, turning square corners, plus short tricky tight areas, and backstitching too. A treadle machine can’t backstitch, you have to put the needle in and turn the fabric 180 degrees and do a couple stitches to be your backstitch. Or figure another way to secure the end. I am just doing the spin it around thing. Anyway, it all went beautifully. I definitely think starting with the simple square quilt was the best way to teach myself how to treadle well. I did over 200 starts and stops on that projects, which really got my feet trained to the treadle. Now I will be moving on to the harder apron patterns. One includes gathering, so it will be fun to see if the stitch length on this machine goes large enough to gather.

I am also trying to wrap my head around Christmas presents and get started on those. It is a busy season for heritage arts.

Sunday Homestead Update – A New Homestead TV Channel

We don’t have television. We have a running joke that the farm animals give us plenty of things to watch and enjoy. Each time we add a new type of livestock, we say “we got a new TV channel!” because we find ourselves constantly wanting to watch them and their antics. It is fun to see how different each type of animal is. Well, this week, with the guinea hens now free-ranging, we have added a new TV channel to the farm. Guinea TV. We are often found plastered to the front windows watching the guineas fight over a lubber, or scratching and dust bathing.

Guinea Fowl

This is our first time raising Guinea fowl. We are raising them to help with bug control and snake patrol. We did not expect to get them as soon as we did, and were planning to wait, but things happened that led us to getting the keets in the middle of our crazy just-moved-to-a-new-farm-summer. We have been attempting to learn what we can about them along the way, squeezing in learning and research as we go. Due to all this, our plans for them have changed about ten times.

As with pretty much any livestock, opinions on the best way to raise them vary widely and often disagree with each other. As of last week, we had planned to keep them in the coop, with a fenced exterior pen for awhile to help them get accustomed to their coop and in hopes they would come home to roost each night. But after doing some more reading, and assessing our time constraints and the cost it would be to build them a temporary exterior pen, we decided to just go for it and let them free range right from their house. Everyone said that you should let them out a couple hours before nightfall the first time so they didn’t wander too far and that would increase your chances of them staying close to home. The question of whether they would choose to use their house to roost at night was anyone’s guess, as, apparently, guineas are known for just heading out and deciding they don’t want their house and they will find a new place to roost and live.

Day 1: We opened their little door at 5pm, 2 hours before sunset. By sunset, they still hadn’t even stuck their little heads out the door. They were cowering on the opposite side of the coop from the door as if the door was dangerous. Sigh.

Day 2: We opened their little door at 3pm. Giving a couple extra hours before sunset so they would hopefully get curious enough to come out. Nope. By sunset, they still were in there, cowering and afraid. At this point I worried maybe keeping them inside for the first 10 weeks of their life had somehow ruined them for living out in nature as intended. Sigh.

Day 3: We decided to open the little door at morning barn chore time, giving them all day to hopefully be curious. Again, they cowered in the corner. We hadn’t told Braveheart the plan and so he went into their house to do their morning water and food. Apparently, fear of humans trumps fear of tiny door in the wall, and they all came rushing out. Once outside, they realized that they were now outdoors and were more scared than ever. They stretched their necks to look back at their little door and into their house, but were so scared that Braveheart might still be in there that they wouldn’t even get closer to it than a few feet. Oh, well, at least now they were outdoors. They started to eat bugs and scratch and occasionally would send up the alarm at seemingly nothing. They learned the beauty of dust bathing. They stayed together as a tight group and didn’t go more than 10 feet from the poultry barn all day, working their way slowly farther and farther around it until they had gone all the way around it. But they continued to avoid their little door. This posed a problem…their water was in their house. There was nowhere else to get water and they refused to go in. We hoped they would go in as night fell and hopefully drinking just once for the day would be enough.

Dark descended and they were not even considering going in. But they were still sticking very close to the poultry barn area. We put a flashlight in their house, hoping if it was lit up in there and they could see if was safe they would go in. Nope. Finally, we decided to try to gently herd and coax them in. Well…herding guineas is definitely harder than herding cats. But do you know what is even harder than herding guineas? Herding just ONE guinea hen. Yup, we finally got the whole group to go in, except one. And once that one was alone she did not decide that going in the door with her friends was the safest option…instead she decided the world was coming to an end and she needed to just freak out and run hither and yon in the dark. Sigh. How do these things survive in the wild? So we gently herded her and coaxed her, and it took forever, but she finally went inside. At least they were all indoors, with the water, and safe for the night. We would just have to see what the next day would bring.

Day 4: We had Braveheart do food and water BEFORE the door was opened so that they could leave of their own accord, in hopes that then they would not view it as an unsafe place. It worked! They left on their own, and went back in several times throughout the day to drink. They slowly expanded how far they were venturing out from the poultry barn, getting farther and farther away, but returning often. They were eating tons of bugs. It was awesome. The question went back to…will they put themselves to bed, or decide that a tree or roof is a better place to be? The answer was…neither. They huddled near their little door as darkness fell, but wouldn’t go in. We had installed a light in there, so it couldn’t be that they didn’t like the dark. But still, they just huddled. So we did the gently herding and got them all in.

The same thing repeated a few days in a row…and then, last night, they put themselves to bed! Success!!!

The problem we keep having with them now, however, is that they have figured out how to fly into the chicken pen, but then can’t get out. They seem to think that the compost in the chicken pen is somehow superior to the huge pile of compost they have access to about 50 yards from their front door. So each day one or two get into the chicken pen and then can’t get out. It wouldn’t be a big issue except we haven’t had time to build the door for humans to get into the chicken pen. Which means as night falls and they still are stuck in there we have to climb a ladder up and then down to get into that pen. Sigh.

If you look on the mid-left side of the photo you can see the huge compost heap in the distance. And yet we have two guineas in with the chickens on their little heap of compost, and the rest of the guineas running around the outside edge trying to figure out how to get in. I guess the saying stands…the compost (grass) is always better (greener) on the other side of the fence.

Overall, we are very pleased with the guinea fowl experience thus far, and look forward to more guinea fowl TV.

Heritage Arts

I got my quilt “sandwich” pinned together and trimmed the edges.

But I quickly found that my antique treadle machine did not like to work with all the layers. The feed dogs are small and off to one side and getting it moved through easily without puckering the fabric was very challenging. I decided to settle with having pieced it completely on the treadle machine and got out my electric machine and walking foot and have been busy quilting it. Hopefully, I will finish it this week!

Building Supplies

This week we were very blessed to be the receivers of an entire flatbed full of building supplies. An older gentleman was cleaning out a shed and said that anyone who could come load on their own and was willing to take everything, not just the parts they wanted, could have it for free. We jumped on the opportunity and ended up with a lot of supplies in very good condition. It included enough metal roofing to finish up the poultry barn roof – which we have been praying for. So that was exciting. And the rest of the stuff is all useful and in good condition as well. Nothing will go to waste as we continue to build our new farm. What a blessing!

Sunday Homestead Update – Moving Poultry

We continue to recover from our bout of illness in the family. For the most part it was a routine week of school, work, and homestead. Routine is always nice.

Poultry

This week we pulled off the big poultry juggling act and got all the poultry into their winter housing. We finished the chicken housing out at the poultry barn and moved the standard chickens from the coop out there. Then we moved the ducks out of the moveable tractors into what used to be the chicken coop and is now the duck house. Moving those Muscovies is no joke – there was blood loss by every helper. We even had long sleeves and gloves on and we still all lost at least a little blood. Those claws…whew. But it is done now and we are glad. The Welsh Harlequin hens are going to take some time to integrate with the whole group – but at least when they were in their tractors we had them butted up against each other so they all have interacted through the wire and are not complete strangers.

It also meant that we were able to dump the first load of compost into the chicken pen. We are happy to get our chickens back to work on making compost for us. We haven’t been able to do that since we moved to the new farm. As soon as we dumped it they immediately ran over and went to town scratching through it. They spent the rest of the afternoon and evening working on it. We need to add a lot more for them to work on. But this is a start.

That leaves just one more thing to accomplish before the cold really hits as far as livestock housing is concerned, we need to get the exterior pen finished for the guineas so they can go outdoors. They are still living inside their coop only. We plan to free-range them at some point, but in order to get them accustomed to “home” being their coop so that they will come back to roost at night and stay close around our property, we have decided to give them a temporary exterior pen for the time being and we will let them free-range at some point in the future – probably next spring.

There is also a ton of little details that need dealing with on both the poultry barn and the duck housing – wire buried along the exterior pens, trim work on the buildings, and a complete revamp of the duck exterior pen. But all those things can wait, at least now they are all safe and can live in their new places long term.

Heritage Arts

I finished the cozy winter sweater for Braveheart! I am glad to have gotten it done before the cold weather hit. Now he can enjoy it all winter. One thing I really love about hand-making clothes, whether by knitting or sewing, is that you can make them specific to fit the person just right. Braveheart is growing and is in a stage where his arms are very long right now. In order to buy him a sweater that fits the length of his arms, it is much to big around and looks like a tent on him. But if we buy him one that fits his body right, the sleeves are way too short. With hand-knitting his sweater, I was able to make it fit his body AND his arm length. It looks great and he is very happy with it.

The pattern was the Basic Set-In Sleeve pattern from the book Top Down Sweaters by Ann Budd. The yarn I used was from our ram Fergus’ 2020 fleece. Daniel made the yarn for me in the mill. It is a DK weight 3-ply with 15% bamboo blended in. The bamboo was pre-dyed a dark green. Fergus’ fleece was dark grey. The two blended together look really great, with a subtle green shimmer to the dark heathered grey. Plus, Fergus had a very nice, soft fleece. So it is soft, with the added strength of the bamboo. Very happy with this project.

I have really been having fun with my 1905 treadle Singer sewing machine. I think that sewing a basic square quilt was a perfect way to really learn to control the treadle. Starting and stopping over and over, literally hundreds of times as I sew each 4.5 square to the next has really helped ingrain in my head how to use the treadle well. I have finished piecing the top, and now will move on to quilting it – again, using the treadle machine. I am going to do a simple stitch-in-the-ditch to quilt it, so that shouldn’t be too hard. But managing the size of the quilt in the machine and all the layers will be a new experience from the piecing, so it will build my skills too.

Sunday Homestead Update – Autumn

We had one day this last week that felt and smelled like autumn. It was wonderful! It was cool, with a nice breeze, but bright sunshine. The girls and I were able to spend some of the afternoon out on the back patio knitting and drinking hot tea – mmmm, yes – Autumn! It was nice to take a break from the busy-ness of farm life for a few hours and just enjoy time with each other. According to the weather reports, we should have even more days like that this coming week. So I guess autumn is officially here, just in time.

It definitely makes working on all the many things we are scrambling to get done a lot more comfortable when the weather is in the 70s, instead of the triple digits! We continue to plug away at the many many projects to get done before winter hits.

Poultry Barn

Phase one of the poultry barn build is underway. The barn will eventually have three indoor sections and several exterior pens. But for this first phase, to get us through this winter with the poultry we have now, we are just doing two sections and 2 exterior pens. This winter it will house the guineas and standard size chickens. The ducks will go in the house/pen that the chickens are currently occupying, and the bantam chickens will stay in their coop which we brought with us from our previous homestead.

Garden

We have started to build the garden for next year. We had planned to put it out near the poultry barn, but after watching the heat and sun cook all the plants in our container garden this summer, we decided the garden would fare better with some shade throughout the day. So we are putting it behind the mill. This will not only give it some afternoon shade, it will also mean less fences we need to build, and thus less money. The mill wall will be one side of it, and an existing wood privacy fence will be the other side. So we will only have to build two fences. At this point in our building-a-new-homestead-journey, anything that will save time and money is a huge plus. And we think the location will be better overall. The bantam chicken coop will also hook to the garden fence, making it so we can easily let the bantam hens out to work the soil in the garden when it is not growing.

We have been clearing the area of all the junk that was there, and leveling the surface since years of downspouts flooding it have left it a mess. Hoping to get part of the fence up this week after we finish leveling it.

Canning

The bounty of garden-fresh produce continues to come in from generous gardeners we have met that have too much to use themselves. What a blessing! I figured we would be completely skipping canning/preserving season this year since we didn’t have a garden, and yet here we are, canning and dehydrating and freezing like crazy. It is keeping us very busy, and we are very excited to have this blessing.

Quilting

I decided the best first-project for learning to use my treadle sewing machine would be a simple quilt with 4-inch squares. It will give me hundreds of start/stop opportunities on the machine, but still be nice simple straight lines, no backstitching, etc. I cut the fabric (a bunch of scraps) this last week and got started sewing it. I am already seeing a ton of improvement in my ability to use the machine and I am only about 1/4 of the way into the piecing process for this quilt. I am really enjoying using the machine and mastering the skills. Fun!

Sink Hole

A small sink hole showed up in our yard. It is about 4 ft. by 3 ft. and about 3 feet deep at its deepest spot. It is under the sidewalk. Strange. We think it has to do with an old tree that was by the sidewalk and was cut down before we moved in. It seems maybe the roots rotted and caused this? Not sure. But we have filled it in.

The smoke has cleared a lot with the shift in the weather and thus we have been able to see our beautiful mountain view a lot more the past few days. It has been wonderful! The sunsets over the mountains are breathtaking. My camera never catches it right, and definitely doesn’t show the true awesome-ness of it, but I still continue to try to photograph them.