Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year in Review : 2014

Season's Greeting from Homestead Life!  As the year comes to a close and we begin to anticipate a new beginning full of great expectations and high hopes (of blogging more regularly again), I remind my guilt-ridden self that, although I put pen to paper, so to speak, only 5 times in the past  year, we had many adventures, successes, learning experiences, disappointments and failures throughout the past year: that's what Homesteading - nay - LIFE, is all about.
  I'd like to recap the year for you, if you don't mind, with the full intention of wrapping up 2014 and beginning anew, (hopefully) more conscientious about writing more consistently of our doings.

January began with the birth of triplets - as diverse in color as they could be. One tan and grey spotted, another black and white spotted, and the third brown with white ears and a black stripe down her back. One of my husband's most endearing qualities is his tender heart - his commitment to and pure enjoyment of caring for animals. Neither the freezing cold nor the pouring rain during the every 3 hour bottle feedings has ever caused him to complain. 

Throughout the year we had a total of 23 baby goats born on the farm. Unfortunately we lost 5 youngsters to Coccidiosis, an intestinal parasitic disease that I had not been aware of. I now know what to look for and how to treat it, but the loss was heartbreaking.  We are ending the year with  4 recently weaned sale goats and four that we are keeping. Only two babies are still bottle feeding.

Last winter was exceptionally long and cold. Not just to me, but also to our fish. Though our tank is inside a greenhouse, the water temperature dropped below what they can tolerate and we lost 90% of our fish.  Fortunately, they are begin to  repopulate and we'll keep a better eye on the temp this winter and exchange water more often.

2014 was the year of "the turkey-ducks": a name we lovingly refer to the flock of  7 turkeys, 7 geese and two white ducks who think they're all related. The turkeys and geese we hatched in the incubator and the ducks were given to us, but they all share the same coop at night and roam the farm together during the day. They make quite a rukus but they are very entertaining and some of my favorite fowl on the farm! 

Chickens are another story altogether! My LEAST favorite fowl!!  We had trouble this spring with foxes - they're so bold! They come right up and run along the fence-line, just waiting for a roosting bird to come down out of the trees in the morning. To help combat the diminishing numbers we hatched out many chicks and moved the coop to a more secure location - in the driveway, accessible to the dogs. Our 60+ chickens roam the farm freely during the day and are cooped at night for safety.

We spent a good amount of time - never enough -  messing with our hives.  During the months of April and May, God brought  7  swarms to our Homestead - all in the same location. I've never seen anything like it - a swarm would come, settle into a box, we'd move the box and replace it with an empty, and within a day or two ANOTHER swarm would arrive.  It was magnificent!  Thank-You Lord!

                                           FYI - Bees don 't sting when they're swarming.

Another cool thing we did with the bees this year was to try something I saw on Pinterest: honeycomb built inside the jar.  There's a learning curve to this craft but it was fascinating and worth the effort - if only for one season.  I'm leaving that decision up to Bob.  Here's what it looked like:

My summer garden didn't do worth a darn. I've decided that I much prefer a fall - winter garden! I just don't like dealing with the heat and squash bugs!  I grew kale for the first time and it was the most prolific, highest yield crop I'd ever had!  Right now I have spinach, 5 or 6 types of lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, mustard, onions, garlic, arugula, swiss chard and kohlrabi growing beautifully!  It all survived the couple of nights that we had temperatures in the teens and twenties!  My citrus trees? Not happy at all!

I also love picking (and eating!) blueberries!  We have a friend who lets us pick anytime and I spent a good many early mornings and evenings doing just that!

This motivated us to plant 34 blueberry bushes on our property last spring.  It'll be years before they'll produce quantity, but it will be worth the wait!

I did manage to make and can a few jars of blueberry jam - though they're much better fresh.  I also canned spaghetti sauce, fig jam (our newly planted tree produced quite a bit it's first year!), pear sauce and beef tips.  I had hoped to give a demonstration of canning goat meat at one of the shows we did this year, but it never quite happened.  We did butcher a goat and made a delicious stew for samples at the annual "Goat Day" held here locally.  It's the only time we ever eat goat meat, even though we have almost 40 goats here on the farm!

This summer we inherited 4 rabbits. They are predominately meat breeds, but due to our Biblical dietary food choices we won't be eating them.   Perhaps one day we will breed them for a protein source for others, for now they're just pets.

This was also the year we began making small changes in our eating habits.  With all the information out there about the detrimental effect of processed foods, GMOs, aspartame, fluoride and on and on, one of the changes we've made is to learn to make and to drink Kefir everyday. This is so easy and so nutritious I believe everyone should do it; so much so that 2 of the 5 blog posts I wrote this year were about Kefir.  You can read about it HERE and HERE.
The other change we made was to stop buying store bought bread. I now make all our bread (and boy, do we LOVE bread!) using fresh ground wheat, water, honey, olive oil, yeast, flaxseed and a little salt. I use my breadmaker, dump the ingredients in, press a button, and voila! 4 hours later a fresh, hot loaf of very delicious bread. I like the fact that I can pronounce all the ingredients in our food.  I only wish I had fresh, homemade butter to slather  on it!

About that.... Many of you may be familiar with the stories of Buttercup, our soon to be 5 year old Jersey cow.  If not, there are some great blog posts about her and our failed attempts to have a calf on the farm.  In March of this year she spent the month with a handsome Brahama bull, and we felt confident that finally, the deed had been done. Once again, 9 months later.... NOTHING!
So here's what we've decided. We're going to give her ONE MORE CHANCE (against the advice of a trusted, dear friend and cattleman who probably thinks I'm too soft).  During one of the shows we did this summer we met a new friend who has a small dairy nearby.  She has most graciously invited Buttercup to come meet her registered Jersey bull and stay for three months sometime in the near future.  Stay tuned as the saga of Buttercup continues.

                                                    Maybe she just didn't like him.

In the greenhouse we continue to strive to grow everything from Heirloom seed. Our goal is to one day fill the place with food grown aquaponically.
I continue to milk goats twice a day and make cheese and soap as often as I can find time.
Even with all this going on, Bob continues to work 40+ hours at the church with a two hour car ride every day, and I work twice a week at the church as well.  Unfortunately the farm does not pay for itself!

2014 was a year of huge milestones in our personal life as well.
Our youngest son graduated from high school and shortly thereafter left with his brother and a small inheritance from their grandmother to backpack Europe for 6 weeks. Much of my time was spent planning their itinerary and documenting their travels.  Upon their return our youngest gathered together the required documents and applied for a Congressional nomination to the U.S. Air Force Academy, which he did receive.  Now to wait and see if he is accepted into the Academy.
We also celebrated my daughter's graduation from the first ever bachelors program at our local college. Her degree and occupation is in nursing.  We couldn't be more proud.
Not to be outdone, her twin  and husband bought a second restaurant on the water in Cornwall, England.  When I get to missing them I love to read the raving reviews on Trip Advisor.  If you're ever traveling in England, look them up at The Sharksfin or at their newest Pub, The Golden Lion.
And finally, our daughter, Samantha, who came from Arizona over a year ago to live with us recently moved into her own plae.  She had been a huge help at the farm getting up with me at 4 am everyday to help with the chores and doing lots of work around the Homestead like pulling fence and running electrical wire, just to name a few.  To our great joy her boyfriend, Chris, proposed last week and she said, "YES!"

Finally, on a more somber note... In this life we all face heartaches and disappointments and we each have our own struggles.  We're not exempt from them here at Homestead Life.  the stories I write sometimes  seem as though all is wonderful and rosy and everything successful and beautiful all the time but that is certainly not the case. I just choose not to share all the yuk. This I will share with you because I believe it will one day be a story of hope, courage, perseverance and ultimately triumph.  Right now all it is is heart breaking.

 As you may know, we have three Rottweilers. This spring they will be 6 years old. Abbey is the smallest, maybe 60 pounds and a little more neurotic that the other two.  From the time she came home  at 6 weeks she has barked at every strange noise she hears.  Gus, our male, weighs in at around 80 pounds and is our "Bubbie". The sweetest, gentlest, most licking dog you've ever met. And then there's "the Max". She's about 120 pounds (surprisingly, all three are fed the same amount each day - and not much at that!) and looks like a black bear.  They are all quite intimidating when they come running up to greet visitors!

About 6 weeks ago we noticed that Abbey looked a little off.  On closer inspection we saw that her throat was puffy - fluid filled and assumed that she had been bitten by a snake.  We've had dogs bitten by Rattlesnakes before and have been counseled by vets to give them Benedryl - that there was no anti-venom necessary and that they would most likely be fine.  A few days later the right side of her face showed signs of paralysis. We waited to see if it would right itself.  Another week or so later, we went out together early in the morning before dawn and Abbey bumped into me, I stepped on her foot and she tumbled down the porch stairs. Fortunately there are only four of them. I wasn't paying attention until  we went back inside after farm chores and she began walking into things. Bob figured out that she was blind.  Her sight returned the next day and we were so thankful, but now, 2 weeks later, the blindness has returned. It's been about 4 days now and she doesn't seem to be able to see a thing. She's eager to go wherever I go - all my dogs are.  They'll follow me - noone else - everywhere I go.  My husband says that to find me on the farm, just look for the dogs. For the first day or so i wondered if it would be more humane to put her down if her sight does not return, but as the days go by I believe that she will learn to adapt to her lack of vision.  She can't get down the steps so we carry her down. We have a leash rope that we slip over her head to guide her gently as she walks the farm.  She somehow got outside one afternoon and couldn't find her way back, so we're very careful now to keep a close eye on her. All the dogs are afraid of the turkeys and geese and go out of their way to skirt the flock. I have to guide Abbey safely by them because, with all the clatter they make honking and gobbling, not only is it deafening, it also makes it sound like they're everywhere.  Yes, it takes much more time to care for her and I can sense her frustration at not being able to run the woods with the other two dogs, chasing various critters, but I do see a small glimmer of hope. I believe her hearing will intensify - that she'll begin to listen more to my voice for direction and that she will hopefully begin to memorize her steps around the farm.  I try to keep her with me each time I go out and not leave her inside, knowing that her whole world has just been changed and that any sense of normalcy would be welcome.  I know, I think as a human and not a dog, but that's my perception. My reality.  As each day goes by I'm feeling more confident that we can live with this - that this challenge is not insurmountable.  We love our animals.  Every one of them. Our animals are a lifetime commitment that we take very seriously.  We covet your prayers and we thank you for your support  and encouragement.  I pray that 2015 will find each of you following your dreams and doing what you can to make this world a better place.