We Can’t Do It All
This fall has been awesomely productive around the homestead, especially after taking last year off because of Mr. Smile’s health issues and then the year before that being way cut back because of the adoption process. It has felt SO good to make such great progress on some of these projects that seem to have been sitting around waiting forever. The smokehouse and root cellar are done, we have more of the permanent fencing put up in the barnyard, plus two permanent gates and the built-in manger, we have indoor hay racks that help minimize hay waste, the onion & garlic patch is rebuilt (see below), there is a beautiful log-style baby gate at the top of the stairs, and we are oh-so-close to finished with the kitchen remodel (post coming on that once we finally finish).
We also have several projects we still need to finish in the next couple of months: the remodel of the barn with two lambing/kidding stalls and a new goat milking stanchion, and some fixing up on the upper chicken coop while it is empty – fixing the screen window, adding new roosts, moving the nest boxes to make them more accessible, and removing the bear-damaged chicken wire on the exterior pen and replacing it with wood.
We have goat kids due in mid-February and early-March, and lambs hopefully due in April and May.
In addition, we have our regular life outside of homesteading. Mtn Man is starting up a new business venture that will be taking a lot of our resources. And while Mr. Smile’s health is currently stable and he is doing well, we have learned the last year that it can change instantly and we can suddenly be back in the children’s hospital without any heads up at all.
So…now we are contemplating where we want to go with the chickens in the upcoming year. Because of all the events of the last year we are pared down to just 7 laying hens living in the lower coop. We really really enjoyed our selective chicken breeding program and would like to get back into that in the future, but when? We have been discussing the many different options this last week, all the way from starting to build up the breeding flock starting with new chicks next week and continuing to add more between now and spring, to just sticking with a few laying hens and waiting another year, and every option in between those two ends of the spectrum.
It comes down to the fact that we have all these things we want to do. And all these dreams we want to fulfill. But we can’t to it all…at least not all at the same time. Sometimes it works out to go for it and it really adds to the lifestyle we live, and sometimes it doesn’t and we end up having to pull back. Life is a constant plate spinning balancing act. It can be hard to know when to add another plate and when to remove one. And it’s always a bummer when one or more come crashing down because we were trying to spin and balance too many at once. So we are prayerfully considering as a family what to do about chickens in the next year or so.
Onion & Garlic Patch
The onion and garlic patch has been a challenge since we moved to the farm 4 1/2 years ago. The soil in it is very dense and clay-like. And the roots of the trees surrounding it are quite shallow in places. We have tried a few different things to add soil and increase the height of the retaining wall, but they haven’t worked well and our resulting garlic and onion harvests from this area have been terrible. We decided it needed a new, higher retaining wall and then a good deep layer of compost and topsoil added.
First, we needed to take down one of the trees. It was a twin tree and was threatening to fall on the garden as well as causing more shade than I wanted on the garden, and constantly dropping needles into the garden. While we were at it (at taking down trees) we decided to go ahead and fell a massive tree in our front yard that has been threatening the house every windy day since we moved in. We get meg-wind here in the mountains during the winter (regular gusts up to 75 mph, and occasionally as strong as 110) and we would watch this huge tree sway towards the house each windy day. We are so glad we took it down because once it was down we found that the core was all rotten and it likely would have blown down on its own in the next couple of years.
Both of the trees we took down will be taken to the mill to get as much lumber as we can out of them for the building projects around here. The unuseable parts will be chopped into firewood.
Once the twin tree was down we were able to tear down the old rock retaining wall and build up a new, wood one. We ran out of wood before we got it as high as we wanted – we still need 2-3 more layers and then we will add the new soil and plant our garlic before the ground freezes. We are really happy with how it is looking thus far and it will be a huge improvement over what it has been.
We used the smokehouse for the first time this week! I am planning a post for this week with details about how it went.
We finished another section of permanent fencing. It included a gate and the new goat/sheep feeder.
We put in a wider gate – 3 1/2 feet – which will make it easier to get the wheelbarrow and such in and out.
Livestock Versus Pet
On a farm there are livestock animals – animals that need to be productive and earn their keep and are often used for food, and there are pet animals – animals that don’t necessarily have to earn their keep and will be kept whether productive or not and are never eaten for food. Some pets are very productive like livestock and earn their keep, but keeping unproductive livestock like pets is a good way to run a farm into the ground by wasting resources. It is a very rare thing to have an animal cross the line between the two and switch their status. The story of Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White is an example of the rare occasion where a livestock animal becomes a pet.
Well, the story of Wilbur played itself out here on Willow Creek Farm last week when Sunshine played the part of Fern, and Mtn Man was the soft-hearted father, and Wilbur is a meat rabbit instead of a pig. Mtn Man was preparing to butcher our last litter of kits since the buck died. Sunshine really wanted to keep one as a pet, even though she already has a hamster and an indoor cat as pets. Both Mtn Man and I insisted that it didn’t make sense and that she already had enough pets, even though she is very responsible and takes excellent care of her pets. Then, when Mtn Man went to butcher the kits, the one she wanted to keep (a beautiful chocolate agouti colored one), walked right to the front of the cage and bumped his head against Mtn Man’s hand asking for petting – while the rest of the litter acted like meat kits usually do, running around the cage like crazy trying to get away from him. He picked the sweet little guy up and pet it and he just couldn’t do it. It is hard enough to butcher your own young livestock, but to have one that walks right to the slaughter wanting to be pet and loved on makes it nearly impossible. And so, he came into the house with Sunshine’s new pet rabbit…Wilbur. She got so excited and set right to work setting up a cage for him and she has been loving on him ever since.