Novemberrr News & Going-Ons

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We’re halfway through November, and apparently Fall and Winter carpooled together to southeast Texas this year. Most years, we’re just hoping we don’t have to run the a/c, or wear shorts and flip flops to the table come Thanksgiving, but we actually saw it snow the other day - even if was just fifteen minutes of flurries. And this morning, I found ice floating in the goats’ water buckets. I can only imagine how glad we’ll be to see Spring come next year, if Winter decides to make Fall take a permanent backseat this year. But goodness knows, I am relieved to have a break from the extreme heat and humidity we suffered from all Summer, so no complaints. For now.

This past Sunday, we were able to process our second batch of meat birds for the year, and thankfully it went much faster and smoother than our original experience. From setting up to cleaning up, we spent only four hours total; yielding 15 whole birds, and lots of goodies to make broth with. Over the course of this week we’ll be making and freezing gallons of bone broth, saving rendered chicken fat, creating chicken treats from discarded broth ingredients, and weighing and putting up our homegrown poultry. We have found that the work involved to raise and process your own chicken is a small price to pay for all of the wonderful things you get in return, and we’ll continue to raise an annual Fall batch for our family’s use.

We’ve also been working on our goat breeding program this past week, and we’re happy to announce that we believe we’ve been successful in breeding some, if not all, of our does! Clover and Honeysuckle each had a date with Jasper, and those matches seem promising. Violet was exposed to Sebastian as well, however we won’t be surprised if she comes back into heat; confirming a suspected unsuccessful breeding. Sebastian may still be a bit on the inexperienced side, so if he’s not able to complete the job this year, we’re hopeful for a Violet & Bash breeding next season. Honeysuckle and Clover should be due April 9th and 10th respectively, and we really look forward to our first kidding season here on Fuller House Farm!

In other goat news, Ivy will be making her way back to her birth farm early December, and we’re excited to see all that she accomplishes there. Although she is much smaller, and several months younger than the rest of our herd, she provides a lot of promise for the next 2.5 years of maturing. Letting her return to her original breeder is part of our need to scale back on our livestock numbers, and also to help create a better fit within our breeding and kidding schedule. Scaling back on our does also means we will be scaling back our bucks, and Ramsey is officially listed for sale. We hate to see him go, but we look forward to him going on to a herd more in need of his qualities than our own.

So, that’s most of what we’ve had going on around here. How has November been where you are?

All Isn't Lost

Biting off more than I can chew has probably been one of my worst traits that has followed me from adolescence into adulthood. Volunteering or taking on too many new responsibilities has seemed to cause me (and probably my family as a result) more stress than I would honestly care to admit, and it's kind of sad that someone about to enter the down slope of their thirties hasn't been able to break the cycle by now. It's hard not feeling crazy knowing that we sometimes self-inflict our own misery, but I guess the silver lining is knowing we tried. Right?

After re-reading Better an Oops, Than a What If today, I was reminded how burnt out we had been feeling, and the emotional breaking point we had reached just a mere two weeks ago. Since publishing our latest blog post, we've been lying low, re-reevaluating what we truly want in life, and taking our homestead one day at a time. Almost immediately after sharing what I considered an honest beginning to an eventual farewell, we had a few people reach out to us privately, expressing their same feelings about some similar and some not-so-similar things going on in their life, and the support and encouragement we received from them was immeasurable. The resounding advice from all was this - Reevaluate. Scale back, if necessary, but take your time. So, that's what we've been doing, and I have to say I'm glad we didn't just load up all of the livestock, and haul them all off to the nearest sale barn without a second thought. Which is pretty much the point we were at some 15 days ago.

Since our rehoming of Sasha, and declaring to the world "That's it! We're D.O.N.E. Stick a fork in us, we've had it!", we've managed to sell and rehome half of our meat bird flock, one of our youngest does (to no fault of her own), Heidi, and her remaining pups who insisted on using my entire front porch as a massive puppy pad. I couldn't believe the weight that was lifted just from that small amount of scaling down, and immediately I started to feel an increasing surge in my energy and drive within just days. And then I started to reconsider that maybe, just maybe, I really do want a small urban farmstead after all. I knew it was going to kill me to get rid of all the goats; selling Cocoa left me in an ugly cry before her new buyer even pulled out of the driveway. And yet, I still bounced back and forth daily between getting rid of it all or not, at least several times a day. Describing that emotional tug of war as a roller coaster is pretty much an understatement, and I was ready to get the heck off. And then things quietly began to sync back into a better groove, and I really began considering that scaling back was possibly the answer all along, instead of just throwing the baby out with the bathwater altogether. Finally, I was feeling some content for the first time in what seemed a long time, and so we began to discuss what worked and didn't work, with the main goals we wanted to accomplish in our family - and this time, without purely jaded exhaustion and tears.

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Ultimately, we're open to adapting to life and wherever it leads, so our end goals could completely change, and one day we may be down to doing nothing more than canning goods and baking homemade bread - but for now, our homestead goals feel more grounded than they have in quite a while. So, here's what we're going to focus on now, possibly consider for the future, and things we have tried but are letting go of because they just simply aren't a good fit for us.

Focusing On

⦁ Homeschooling, first and foremost. Thankfully, we’ve managed to find a groove that works a lot better with the demands of our current homesteading goals and chores. What we need to focus on now is fine tuning time efficiency.

⦁ Having a flock of 10-12 laying hens. Low producing, or aged hens will be culled every 2-3 years in the Fall, or as necessary. We will only purchase new pullets in the Spring during a culling year, and after we have determined the number of hens no longer beneficial to our goals.

⦁ Processing up to a maximum of 25 meat birds once per year. We will begin the 8 week raising period of Cornish Cross on grass in late Summer, which will allow us to finish them in Fall around October or November.

⦁ Maintaining a small, more manageable Fuller House Mini Nubian herd. Our first breeding season will hopefully commence late 2018, and if successful, we look forward to a good, but modest, kidding season in late Spring 2019. We will be focusing on learning and hands-on experiencing all that breeding, kidding, and allowing dams to raise their kids entails.

⦁ Growing a manageable and useful garden for those things we wish to enjoy fresh on a regular basis, and to can or freeze for later use. We plan to also take advantage of fresh fruits and veggies grown locally that will help reduce the burden of having to grow a massive garden or orchard on our own.

⦁ Hunting in the Fall to provide venison.

⦁ Returning back to eliminating heavily processed ingredients and foods from our menu, in lieu of basic ingredients and more nutrient dense baked and cooked meals on a more regular basis. Making and creating more; relying on major food corporations less.

Possibly Considering

⦁ Raising and processing 2 White Broad Breasted turkeys in the future to determine if turkeys are a good fit for our homestead routine. We plan to raise them alongside a future crop of meat birds, and process them in the Fall at the same time.

⦁ Learning to milk our dairy goats by hand in our second kidding season, and after we have mastered our other goals of efficiently raising and breeding a healthy herd.

⦁ Using our raw goat’s milk to create soap, or for creating and cooking in the kitchen. If there is no need for milk, then there’s no need for the extra work! Having one or more needs for the milk will encourage us to continue milking.

⦁ Raising a lamb for butcher. This project is more of a long term goal, if we do decide to attempt it.

⦁ Building a new, smaller goat house with adequate fencing that allows our eventual smaller herd to roam as one unit. Doing this would reduce labor, and the need to have more than one buck.

Things That Don't Fit Our Homestead

⦁ A livestock guardian dog. Unfortunately, a one acre urban homestead just wasn't the right fit for our 5 month old LGD, Sasha. While she was maturing nicely into a great guardian dog, her barking at night wasn't good for our closest neighbors, or for a husband who sleeps lighter than air. Also, she was limited to a half an acre that was fenced in, since city ordinances forbid roaming dogs and livestock at large. Thankfully, she has become the proud new guardian to a pretty little 3 acre homestead, with plenty of work to do and kids to play with.

⦁ More than one rooster. After gambling with a group of straight run chicks earlier this year (and even a supposed pullet), we found ourselves owners of ten little cocka-doodle-doos. Currently, we still have 7 roosters that we'd like to rehome, but who will join the meat birds on processing day if none are found. Nemo, our resident King Roo, will always have a spot on the roost at Fuller House Farm.

⦁ Dogs in general. After at least two confirmed - and now suspected three - chicken attacks, Heidi and her remaining pups are no longer residents here on the farm. We're thankful for the new homes that were found.

⦁ A large herd of miniature dairy goats. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the beauty of these sweet little critters and want to collect every one that catches your eye, but the work it takes to care for them isn't always fun, quick, or easy. More goats equals more time, and with homeschooling as our first and foremost priority, time can be a precious commodity. So far, we have sold one doeling, and would like to sell at least 2 of our bucks, and possibly 1-2 more of our does. Although we love every one of our goats and wish we could keep them all, we have to be realistic, and keep only those we have truly come to treasure.

⦁ Large, multiple flocks of laying hens. Currently, we have three chicken coops, filled to capacity with three separate aged flocks, plus two separate flocks of month old pullets and weeks old straight run hatchlings from our former broody hen, Della, with no coop to call home in the months to come. We’re currently trying to downsize our entire flock to strictly 10-12 layers + Nemo. So, needless to say, we have lots of birds for sale! Not only does having so many layers require tons more maintenance and labor, but a lot more cost and time in feeding and watering.

All of these changes, whether small or big, feel a thousand times better than the place we had found ourselves in, and it feels really good to have the excitement reignited. We're hopeful that these changes "fix" those issues we were experiencing, and if not, then we know all we need to do is reevaluate and readjust accordingly. All isn't lost, we're just finding a better way.

Better an Oops, Than a What If

When we began this homestead life several years ago, we crept in slowly - inch by inch - as our finances and abilities allowed. Gardens here, a few chickens there. Then canning from our garden, yummy bread making, and eventually raising our very own meat chickens once we moved to our new farmstead. After a year of not having access to raw milk, we started looking into our next possible homestead addition: a family dairy cow, or a few dairy goats. Eventually, we decided to go with goats, since that seemed to be the better fit on a one acre urban farm & homestead. After a massive amount of work, and determination, we ended up with eight goats in total; about 4-5 more than I had originally planned for, but overall we’ve managed.

Recently, over the last several weeks, my mental and physical health haven’t been top notch, and I’ve all but succumbed to daily exhaustion and overwhelming feelings of being burnt out. I took a first small step to try and reduce our workload by rehoming our LGD, Sasha, since she essentially does not have enough work to keep her satisfied, plus living in neighborhood wasn’t the best environment for her or our neighbors, either. I’ve also been trying to rehome Heidi’s five remaining pups, plus dwindle down our extra rooster population without having to put them in the freezer. By taking this step, I had hoped it would be the boost I needed to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and get back to the grind - but interestingly it did something I didn’t expect. It made me question whether I even really wanted to DO THIS anymore. The motivation and drive to push on day after day has completely evaporated, and I’ve been forced to take a long, hard look at where I am, and why I’m in this place.

While I was busy planning and working to grow our homestead the way we've always wanted it to work, deep down I hadn't realized that my heart's compass was no longer pointed in the direction that I truly assumed it had been for so long; the idea and goal that we were going to live as self-sustainable as possible for the rest of our lives, and that ultimately I was going to do most of the work day-to-day, at least for now. I’m not sure exactly when this desire changed, as I really think this has ultimately been a slow build over quite a period of time, but, nevertheless, once I realized this, I was very hesitant to tell Brandon since it had been our supposed dream, and goal for so long. Turns out, he's been feeling the same way, too, and hadn't said anything either. Yes, I do enjoy having fresh eggs, making homemade breads, and canning fruits and veggies, but I was sorely mistaken that that must mean I would just love all things homesteading, or that I HAD to do them in order to be a "real" homesteader.

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I must admit that while having a full on, fully self-sustainable homestead sounds wonderful in theory, and the idea gives me warm fuzzies - I am just not as fulfilled as I anticipated working towards that goal, and surprisingly, Brandon has admitted that to me, too. Lately, I have found myself instead feeling the ever increasing direct opposite - She is tired. She is burnt out. She is done (for the most part). A feeling I’m aware most homesteaders discuss having, but the difference I’ve noticed is it’s still their dream. Despite wanting to give up, they somehow hold on to their goal until a second wind comes, and carries them through. Brandon and I can’t honestly say it’s our dream any longer, so our motivation to grit our teeth and bear it just isn’t there, unfortunately. I applaud those who have taken the challenge by the horns, and are rocking and rolling their homesteads, growing and creating as much as they can. It's hard, exhausting, and usually a very overlooked endeavor by most outsiders, and we wish you and your families nothing but continued strength and success.

Presently, our plethora of animals get as much attention, and sometimes more than our own children do, and I'm simply not okay with that. We're not prone to running the roads day in and day out, but we have immensely enjoyed our freedom to go and do as we pleased in the past, and now we are tied down more than ever to our place. We certainly yearn for those days of being untethered again. Permanent exhaustion has set in, and constant aches and pains have crept into places I didn't anticipate for another few decades at least. My outlook on life has taken a turn I neither foresaw, nor expected when I set my mind to going after the dream of being a homesteading family, and I am forcing myself to push pause, and rewind this thing back to a better place for myself physically and mentally. I want to be happy NOW. I want to enjoy life NOW, and not just hope that in 30-40 years it was all worth it. Not to say that people our age aren't happy or enjoying where they are as homesteaders - it's just not the best fit for us, and I think it's better that we admit that to ourselves now before we invest any more precious time into it.

So, in order to be transparent and hopefully avoid a lot of questions I would anticipate to arise after a post such as this, I just wanted to put it out there that we're going to probably begin scaling back on our farm, and committing to those things we do enjoy like keeping a smaller flock of laying hens, canning and baking, and maybe raising a small batch of meat chickens once a year for our family’s personal use. It's time I actually take my own advice, and remind myself that I can do ANYTHING, but I can't possibly do everything. And, hopefully no one will be taken by surprise if and when they see a big portion of our animals going up for sale. Staying in this to simply avoid looking foolish or like a big, fat failure can't be my motivation any longer, and we thank you all for your support and understanding during this challenging season of growth and change.

Elusive Chicken Killer: Possible Predators & Their Signs

It's never fun having to write about death, and unfortunately it is a dreaded, but integral part of the cycle - the balance if you will - where life exists. And sadly, the more abundance of livestock you decide to care for, the higher your chances are of those living things passing away or becoming prey. While I do accept that illness can happen, and predators still need to eat (I just wish they'd not eat my animals), I'm bothered most by the deaths that leave you scratching your head and a tad paranoid about how to prevent the unexplained from happening again.

As you might know, we brought an LGD puppy home a couple of months ago that had been raised around goats and chickens, and for the time that Sasha has been here, her only crimes committed have been devouring a few sets of flip flops, harmlessly chasing a couple of chickens, thinking the goats were other dogs to play with, and eating chicken feed from the feeders. But here recently, we have found ourselves praising her promising guardian skills more and more, as she has alerted us several times of potential threats - day and night. For the past two months, we've felt completely at ease leaving Sasha alone in the yard with our flock, and yesterday was no exception.

I had to go out of town several hours before Brandon would make it home from work, so I left Sasha in charge until he could get here. As usual, he arrived with no issues, and our flock was perfectly fine. Around 8 pm - not long before I made it in, and at least a couple of hours since he came home - B made his way to the chicken coops outside  to lock them up for the night, as has been our routine as long as we've owned chickens. Coming out onto the porch, he immediately noticed one of our bantams, Buttercup, lying in the front yard far from where the rest of the flock was, not moving with just a few feathers scattered about, and both of our dogs, Heidi and Sasha right there with her. Heidi, a new mom to 3.5 week old pups, had her mouth on Buttercup, but not in an aggressive way according to Brandon; more like when she tries to gently grab one of her lost puppies, and move it back to where it belongs. Buttercup was still warm, so whatever took place happened not long before he, and possibly the dogs, found her. She had a small hole in her chest/rib cage area that didn't resemble a dog bite, and she felt dry, which is odd if she were attacked by a dog. Before he went outside, Brandon didn't hear any barking, or squawking, and neither dog had any feathers or blood anywhere on them. It's like they looked guilty, and innocent all at the same time.

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So, how do you try to prevent another loss when you don't even know what caused this one in the first place? Our mind's wheels began to spin frantically. We went ahead and tethered Sasha near the front porch, where she has access to food, water, and shelter - just in case she was the culprit. Despite being found trying to move the bird, we know hands down that Heidi didn't do this, and she was put back inside with her pups where she's been staying for a while now. Next, our discussion went straight to the fact that hawks are notorious in our area, but not likely to be one in this case considering it was nearly dark, and they hunt during the day. Our only other thought was maybe it was an owl. They are nocturnal hunters after all, and a known chicken predator. Double check. My suspicions grew more when Brandon mentioned that he and Sasha heard an owl a couple of nights ago, so we do know there's been at least one in the area recently. Check. Check. Check. Unfortunately, we can't know 100% since owls tend to leave chickens headless, but it is possible she was accidentally dropped from the pecan branches directly above where she was found. But - despite the fact that I don't want to think she did - it's also possible Sasha tried to play with her, and ultimately killed her. At this point, all we can do is speculate with the evidence we have, but something in my gut keeps trying to tell me it wasn't our livestock guardian. Regardless of whodunnit, the worst part is not knowing how to guard against this kind of thing from happening again. Sure, I'll buy some owl decoys from Tractor Supply, and keep Sasha tethered until we can create her a new living space down by the goats (which we've been meaning to do anyway, since that's her intended job), but what if it's neither of those things? All we can do is wait and see, and hope we don't lose another bird.

Have you lost livestock to an apparent predator, but didn't know exactly what kind? We'd appreciate hearing your experience, and the bases you tried to cover to keep something else like it from happening again. For those interested, I stumbled on this chart of predators, and how they typically attack poultry. Hopefully, you never need this, but I hope it helps if you ever do.

 

What Killed My Chicken?

Clue / Possible Predator

  • One or Two Birds Killed
  1. Entire chicken eaten on site / hawk
  2. Bites in breast or thigh, abdomen eaten; entire bird eaten on site / opossum
  3. Deep marks on head and neck, or head and neck eaten, maybe feathers around fence post /owl
  4. Entire chicken eaten or missing, maybe scattered feathers / coyote
  5. One bird gone, maybe scattered feathers / fox
  6. Chicks pulled into fence, wings and feet not eaten / domestic cat
  7. Chicks killed, abdomen eaten (but not muscles and skin), maybe lingering odor / skunk
  8. Head bitten off, claw marks on neck, back, and sides; body partially covered with litter / bobcat
  9. Bruises and bites on legs / rat
  10. Backs bitten, heads missing, necks and breasts torn, breasts and entrails eaten; bird pulled into fence and partially eaten; carcass found away from housing, maybe scattered feathers / raccoon
  • Several Birds Killed
  1. Birds mauled but not eaten; fence or building torn into; feet pulled through cage bottom and bitten off / dog
  2. Bodies neatly piled, killed by small bites on neck and body, back of head and neck eaten / mink
  3. Birds killed by small bites on neck and body, bruises on head and under wings, back of head and neck eaten, bodies neatly piled; faint skunk-like odor / weasel
  4. Rear end bitten, intestines pulled out / fisher, marten
  5. Chicks dead; faint lingering odor / skunk
  6. Heads and crops eaten / raccoon
  • One Bird Missing
  1. Feathers scattered or no clues / bobcat, cougar (aka catamount, mountain lion, panther, puma), fox, hawk, owl
  2. Fence or building torn into, feathers scattered / dog
  3. Small bird missing, lingering musky odor / mink
  • Several Birds Missing
  1. No clues / coyote, hawk, human
  2. Feathers scattered or no clues / fox
  3. Chicks missing, no clues / snake
  4. Small birds missing, bits of coarse fur at coop opening / raccoon
  5. Chicks or young birds missing / cat, rat
  • Eggs Missing
  1. No clues / human, rat, snake
  2. Empty shells in and around nests / dog, mink, opossum, raccoon
  3. Empty shells in nest or near housing / crow, jay
  4. No clues or empty shells in and around nests, maybe faint lingering odor / skunk

*Adapted from: Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow

Introducing the Fuller House Goats!

Wow - I've missed you guys, and this space! Sorry for leaving y'all kind of hanging for so long; I promise we've got lots to show for it. Pull up a chair - we've got some catching up to do!

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So, beginning around the end of June, B and I set out to build a 30' x 10' goat shelter, some temporary fencing, and a couple of gates out of about 40 or so free pallets we scored from a local feed store here in Hemphill, about 20 new metal t-posts, and a bucket of leftover screws. Our goal was to build the best shelter we could, for the least amount of money possible, in less than two weeks. Aside from buying metal posts, a post driver, and renting a trailer from Tractor Supply for half a day to carry all the pallets, the walls and temp fencing practically cost us pennies on the dollar. Our gates didn't add up to a lot either, after buying a few things like welded wire, hinges, and latches. The most expensive part of the whole building was the roofing materials, but fortunately we were able to cut that cost in about half with some Lowe's credit Brandon had earned through his job, as a kind of spendable commission. Looking back, we over bought on lumber for the roof, but it ended up being used elsewhere in the project, so it all worked out in the end. Brandon's brother who works in construction, happened to be visiting in the area, and graciously offered his labor to help us put the roof up - and that we did, in just a short few hours. We happily supplied a cheeseburger & pizza lunch for his family to show our appreciation for the amazing help, and in the rain nonetheless! Soon, our guests left to head home, so we got busy putting up temporary fencing, hay racks, feeders, and any little last minute details that would make the homecoming smoother. After just a couple of short hours, we were completely ready for our first two goats to arrive at Fuller House the very next day.

After our goat shelter was functioning and ready to house livestock, the kids and I spent several weeks traveling all over East Texas gathering a goat or two at a time; building our herd. By the end of July, our goat transports were complete, and our newly minted Fuller House herd was getting acclimated to each other and their new home here in deep east Texas. Aside from the 1,100 miles driven in just a few short weeks, I got busy getting our family and herd name registered with the Mini Dairy Goat Association (MDGA), we finally closed on our house, and Brandon and I celebrated our 15th wedding Anniversary. To say we were busy this past month would be a gross understatement, but at least it was productive!

And August has seemed to pick right up where July left off - last Thursday, while I was dealing with a puny goat, our dog, Heidi, welcomed six little pups! Come to find out, she successfully went slummin' beginning of June, despite our best efforts of keeping her contained during a very unexpected heat cycle. Even though I'm not looking forward to the inconvenience of having to find good homes for them in about seven more weeks, they are the cutest little half dozen pack of mismatched pooches ever, and I'm secretly excited to have them here! The rest of the month probably won't be slowing down either, as I'm currently working on finalizing documents to get our goats registered, preparing our 2019 breeding program, gearing up to start the next year of intense homeschooling, getting our family back on a healthy eating plan with Trim Healthy Mama, and staying on top of all the other day to day chores that always need being done. Whew. Is it nap time yet?

So, how have you been? Has this summer been a busy season for you as well? I'd love to hear the in and outs of what's going on in your part of the world. Hopefully we'll chat again much sooner than last time!