Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Status Update 12/20/2011

Where are we in life on this hillside as we work towards being a homestead?

We have acquired the floor wire for the rabbit hutches, and I need to get the materials to make the rest of the hutches so we can get our breeder rabbits from Michelle Chandler. Ideally we will get the rabbits off her hands sooner rather than later so she isn't having to feed and deal with them for longer than she has to. We have fully settled on the hutch designs which I should fully draft and post on the blog. It will be a 3' by 4' hutch that is 3 - 4' high.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Habits that will have to change

(Sorry for this going up late, I forgot to hit the publish button, and instead hit the save button! Sorry about that folks.)

One of my favorite luxuries and indulgences is a warm shower in the morning. While I wake up alert, I don't wake up at my best and the ritual of showering in the morning has long been part of my ability to be full functional for the day. Given the awesomely cold temperatures we've been getting up here I've been starting to reconsider my morning showers given that I'll be out checking on and feeding the rabbits and chickens next winter. Depending on how long it actually takes to do animal care, I may or may not change this long time habit. I mean, after all, the cold will probably wake me up quite nicely.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Visiting Michelle Chandler's Farm Pt. 2

Last week on Thursday we put up the first post about visiting Michelle Chandler's farm. In that we talked about our first impressions, and her impressive rabbit operation. I also mentioned that she had goats and chickens which was great for us to see given both our long and short term goals. Today we are going to talk more about her farm, and her goats and chickens.
A very alert Leghorn watching us carefully as we intrude into her personal domain. Mind you, that is one of the walls of the goat pen that the dominant goat apparently semi regularly kicks the chickens off when the goats are inside.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Visiting Michelle Chandler's Farm Pt. 1

This past Friday the lady of the house and I went to see Michelle Chandler's farm, ask a few questions, and see a successful homestead operation firsthand. While we were there the lady of the house took a good number of pictures, and we got to see more than just the rabbits, we also talked about the chickens and goats she had as well. In a lot of ways we found her farm to be a vision of where we wanted to be in a few years.

The rabbit in the picture is Bianca, an American White who is one of Michelle Chandler's breeders. She was a very solidly build animal, and substantially harder to keep calm as I held her than I expected given how calm she was for Michelle.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quick Hit: Procrastination

Procrastination is a skill of sorts that one learns. It isn't laziness per se, it is putting things off to do another "better" time. There are people, especially in college who deliberately procrastinate until there is a rush and they have to finish quickly. They believe that the stress helps them work better, and as a side benefit they have more time to do what they want to. While I was never a big procrastinator in college, there were definitely times that I put off until later what I could have done now so I could hang out with friends, read a fun book, or just because I didn't give a damn.

Unfortunately both with a blog, and with dealing with construction or farming, this is far from useful. That high stress get it done now thing, useless when the fact you've waited means the weather is now wrong for what you need to do. In my case, I've been rushing around in these few unseasonably warm days to get pieces of the studio done that need to be done when it will be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or over for 24 hours at a time. The up shot of this is that I have been rather uninspired to work on the blog when I have had free time. I will try not to do so in the future. After all, now when I procrastinate and mess up by having too much to do in too short of a time to manage it all instead of a private loss of grade, there's the rather more public failure to produce a blog post.

Thursday the lady of the house and I will be talking about visiting Michelle Chandler's farm. She was generous enough to let us take pictures of her operation so expect a big and picture full post Thursday. Thank you all for your indulgence.

Edited to Add:
The lady of the house generously provided this image to put on here as a preview of Thursday's post.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Local Regulations

So I wanted to take a moment to step back from talk of how, and why to do things and check in on something that can be a sticking point. CAN you do what you want to where you are? The lady of the house and I are fortunate that were we purchased the legal restrictions on what we can do are virtually non existent regarding what we want to do. We'd have to have a permit to have more than one unregistered vehicle on the property, and can't dump toxic waste. Shucks darn. That said where we live is considered a rural residential area and allows all agricultural, floracultural, and horticultural activities so long as they do not pollute the water supply. Our town is also kind enough to have all of the relevant information available to us on the town website. Not everywhere is so open, or so easy to find information about.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Frustration of Waiting

This is less a post about what we are doing than what I personally am feeling at the moment. I'm very very frustrated with waiting, researching, and preparing. I want to be Doing. To an extent I am doing things, a lot of things. I am working on stacking wood, clearing land for winter, digging ditches, finishing the interior of the studio so it can be used. I'm focusing on what I eat, and from where. But what I'm not doing is getting actively started on raising my own meat, or even building their enclosures yet. Now there are good reasons for that which I'll go into below the cut.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Tools You Have

A sad truth of anyone's life has I'm sure, at some point included needing to do something and not having the right tool. I'm sure everyone has wanted to drive a nail, and not had a hammer, or wanted to cut tape on a box and not had a knife. What do you do then? The two options are go find the right tool, or make do with what you have. On a homesteading scale there's, as we discussed yesterday, a lot more tools and many more jobs to do. Today I'm going to be talking about my experience and thoughts on making do with the tools you have, and when you shouldn't try to.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Do I Need This Tool

If you are intending to do things yourself, you will need to have tools. Each trade has its own tools, and frequently each task has its own. Unless you are part of that trade, it gets prohibitively expensive to have every tool for a trade, especially for a home owner who is a do it yourselfer. As a homesteader especially, you need digging tools, construction tools, electricians tools, plumbers tools, animal care tools, gardening/landscaping tools, and so on depending on your environment. If you happen to be wealthy and have the space to store all of those tools and buy them, all well and good. Most of the time though, one has to compromise between what you have, and what you need to do.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Studio Windows

When we were looking at and deciding on whether we'd buy the house, one of the things that was a tipping point was the unfinished area above the garage. At 24' x 30' it's substantial allowing for a lot of options for what we could do with it. It also has amazing windows on the south side. Between these things we thought it would make a great studio, and it will when I'm done. These are the pictures we took of it before we even put in the purchase agreement.

This is the South Side with the gorgeous windows.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

DIY vs. Hiring a Pro: The Studio

Obviously, as we are attempting homesteading the lady of the house and I are comfortable, and indeed actively tend to do things ourselves rather than getting a professional to do so. That said, I'd like to examine some of the pros and cons of each. One of the big attractions to us about our house is the big garage with a second floor on it, but it did need finishing. Given our rather slim financial situation, one might assume that we did the whole thing ourselves, and you'd be wrong. The why I think is the important part.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

When Nature Calls

No, this isn't about bathrooms, this really is about when nature happens. Something that one often hears about farming is that you are at the mercy of the weather. The same is true of homesteading, and it really is true. It's not just that you're at the mercy of the weather in terms of if it rains you can't work. It means that when the time comes in the season that you need to do something, you have to do it Now. I've been told this a number of times, but it really hit home with the snow. Read about the progression below the cut.

Warning, this post is quite picture heavy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Mother Nature Strikes

As you may or may not know, the Western Massachusetts area I live in got hit hard by an unseasonable snow storm. We unlike the rest of the area never lost power, but we did have other things to take care of. Like hand shoveling the 200 yard long driveway so we could get out for work, and so our friends could get to us for warm space to sleep, hot food, and a shower. Unfortunately this means my hands are not doing so well for typing at the moment. Posts will resume on Thursday with a discussion of the storm and what it did.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Is There Anything Else I Should Be Asking?"

So in most homesteading situations you will be buying a house. If you've already purchased a house you probably already know this, but it bears mentioning. When you buy a house there will be at least 3 relatively important systems that you are not intimately familiar with. Heat, Water, and Electricity. Make absolutely sure that you get a solid walk through on those systems from the previous home owner, and learn their quirks. This goes beyond the basic learn where the kill switch for your oil furnace is. At the low end, it will keep you from embarrassment. At the high end, it will save your house from major damage or destruction.

What Brings This Up?
Our wood stove is the specific incident that is prompting this particular incident. I've used wood stoves before, many times. In general, wood stoves are very simple devices. That in mind, I didn't bother asking any questions about quirks on the wood stove and I really wish I had. I would have avoided a rather cold few nights, and a bit of embarrassment.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How to Butcher Our Rabbits

Even now, before we get our breeding rabbits we had a big question we have to answer before we even decided to finalize our decision to get rabbits. What about butchering them. Given our requirement for ourselves that our raising methods be humane, we also require of ourselves that we give a humane death to our rabbits. To some this may seem like a strange statement, after all, we are killing them for meat. That said, there are better and worse ways to kill an animal. Think of it this way, why do we euthanize our dogs and cats instead of letting them die at home of cancer, or cluster seizures? It's less painful and frightening to them. Ok, so why bring them to a vet which is stressful for them instead of shooting them at home? My answer to that is two fold, one, I don't want to kill my pets if I can avoid it, and two, an injection of lethal doses of anesthetic or other method isn't going to miss a vital organ and leave a screaming animal in pain. So, given that to have a meat operation we would have to kill animals, we went to our favorite activity, research.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rabbits: Space Part 2

Last Thursday we discussed factory and pet home suggestions for raising rabbits, and some complications for what we were going for. Today I am going to be writing about pasture raising, and colony raising and concluding with what we want to do, and why.

Pasture Raising
Pasture raising a rabbit is not like pasture raising a cow, it isn't out of a cage wandering in a field and eating grass. It is in a movable pen called an Ark. I don't know who pioneered this first, but the one who one most often hears about with it is Joe Salitin of Polyface Farm. His operation is one of the big ones that we drew inspiration from, especially involving the rabbits and chickens sharing space in one way or another. Here you see the movable pens that his rabbits forage in and their Raken   as well as some information on that.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Decision Making On Rabbits: Floor Space

Obviously, given the subtitle of the blog, we decided in the end that rabbits were indeed a good idea for us to raise. The question that really matters for everyone else is why, and how did we come to that conclusion? As with every other decision we have made so far, it was based on a fair amount of research, and a lot of things are still evolving for us. Our base considerations were cost, heartiness, care requirements, ethics, and finally, can we handle killing rabbits for meat? In this post I'm going to discuss how much space each rabbit needs.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Apologies for the late post, not sure if I imagined writing a post up, or if I forgot to save it or what, but this is a bit last minute.

Today I'm going to talk about gloves of various types that one has use for around the house. I took inventory of the gloves that I have and use and was actually a little stunned by the number. Gloves are one of those items that every household needs, how many depends on what all you do. That said, there are actually a number of things where gloves that are great for one thing will actually not be good for something else. I'll be interested to see if there are other kinds of gloves that people use regularly that don't come up in this post. If so chime in in the comments.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

An Article Worth Reading

A piece written by Mark Bittman for the New York Times. Covers a lot of our ideas, and concerns while having good ideas for workable solutions to the problems facing the future of food. Well thought out and well written.


Our Sadly Not So Brilliant Idea

Every once in a while I have what I think is a Brilliant Idea. It's creative, it makes use of resources well, it fits the criterion for the objective perfectly. I've found that the key to using these ideas well is to do some research. If you have an idea that seems awesome and does things in a cool, creative new way in an old field there is often a reason it hasn't been used. This was the case with our most recent one.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Quick Hit: The Value Of Friends

There is more to say about the value of friends than just one short post, but it's worth making a quick start on it. One of the things I've been working on is a finished room in one of our outbuildings to use as an art studio/sitting area. This particular space was one of the big draws of our place, and was something we were enthusiastic about when moving in. Unfortunately there has been a bit of a debacle with the local building inspector, and things have gotten slowed down by 3 months. Unsurprisingly then when things started moving again, I wanted to get things done as fast as possible. To that end, when I had to insulate 800 square feet of ceiling, I called in friends.

Two friends showed up on 3 day notice, and helped out with the rather unpleasant job of doing ceiling fiberglass insulation. It was a learning experience for both of them which may be valuable to one of them who has been doing work on her own house. That said, both of them were covered in fiberglass and itching thoroughly by the time it was done. The value is obvious, I have friends, they showed up and helped cutting down the time this took significantly. It meant that I got that 800 square feet done within 5 hours rather than 15, or more. Not only that, neither of them asked to be paid (which I can't afford right now). They just know that if they need a hand, I'll come give it if I can do so at all.

Chances are over time, you will make acquaintances and friends with a variety of skills and abilities. As you homestead draw on those skills and abilities. Chances are you don't know how to be a plumber, an electrician, framer, finisher, floor installer, foundation layer, insulator, painter, excavator, lumberjack, farmer, animal expert, butcher . . . etc. Use the people you meet to learn what you can, and get done what needs to get done. Chances are you can do something that they can't and need done, or you can simply offer your time and labor helping out. Don't be afraid to help folks out "for free." In the end it will end up coming back and helping you when you need to reach out for help.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Our Ethical Objectives

I probably should have put this in the very first post of the blog, but I felt that getting a feel for the process of blogging first was more important. 

Our Mission Statement
To raise and grow our own meat in an ethical manner consistent with maintaining animal welfare and a sustainable lifestyle.

That's the short and sweet of it, I'm going to discuss more about the specifics of it below the cut.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Second Inspiration

Homesteading really wasn't what we first set out or thought to do. At first we were just thinking, chickens are good for eggs and controlling tick populations. We came to homestead not through deciding to do it but through first the chickens, then a second inspiration.

Ethical Meat
Ethical eating in general more to the point, but meat is a significant issue for us. As people concerned with animal welfare ethical treatment of animals is a concern. Both of us have experience with the meat industry through either classes or brief acquaintance in person. Given our knowledge of the meat industry in terms of animal ethics, meat nutrition, and sustainability over all, how to eat well has been a topic of conversation nearly as long as we have been going out. It obviously came up again as we discussed getting chickens. The obvious choice when having chickens for eggs is to have a rooster and also eat chicken. The lady of the house again had an idea (Seeing a pattern here?), what about rabbits?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Asking Questions

Libraries are developing significant sections of books on the subject to allow you to read for free. There are many books on homesteading out there that cover various things that can help you out as you shift your lifestyle. There are blogs on the subject, forums on every kind of livestock, web pages. It almost seems that there is enough information out there to figure out how to do all of this for yourself, and if you have plenty of money and lots of time, you probably can through trial and error. I however would recommend that you talk to locals, and people who have tried what you are doing and ask questions.

Asking questions is often more easily said than done, and I have a bit of advice on it below the cut.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Breeds We Selected

Our Primary Considerations
The factors we are looking for in a chicken are:
Hearty, especially to cold.
Relatively docile to human handlers, specifically those that they are familiar with.
Able to defend themselves at least somewhat from predation.
Lay well.
Decent meat.
Good at foraging.
Medium to large eggs.

 This reused image is a picture from some local friends of ours with chickens showing their laying flock.

Note: We had hoped to have pictures to go with words from the Big E, but sadly they didn't have chickens there when we were there, so sadly this will be a post sans pictures of what I'm talking about.

Below the cut will be specific breeds and the benefits we want from them.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Research Part 2: Chicken Breeds

Chicken Breeds
So, I've been a city kid for my entire conscious life until very recently, but I had some acquaintance with where my food comes from. At one of the summer camps I went to we raised and slaughtered our own chickens. Mind you, I was quite young at the time and don't remember a lot of the process. What I do remember doesn't match up to what I want to do with chickens, and only included one breed of chicken. I did know that there were egg laying chickens, meat chickens, and heritage breeds. I knew not a single thing about them and their merits  or even what they were called or how to research them. Fortunately, there are a LOT of books about this as well as significant online resources. I'm collecting information I gathered from http://www.backyardchickens.com/ and from "Barnyard in Your Backyard" edited by Gail Damerow, and "Storey's Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds" by Carol Ekarius.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Learning Experiences 2: Drainage

Mental images of Daniel Day Lewis in "There Will be Blood" aside, drainage is definitely firmly in our minds now. Unsurprisingly Irene, or any major tropical storm will be an issue for anyone with property and even more so for people attempting to homestead. In our benefit, we don't yet have animals to care for in a deluge, and thus that ended up not being a major concern yet. That said, what did happen highlighted things we are going to have to focus on in construction and placement of our animal pens.

This is (was?) our driveway. As you can clearly see, we can't drive on that section.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Learning Experiences Part 1

Learning Experiences
Everyone has learning experiences. It's what happens when you make a mistake, and gain something from it. By sharing our doubtless substantial number of learning experiences, hopefully others can avoid making the same mistakes. I'd like to note that many of these will be learning experiences in progress, so we'd love input.
                                         Stock Photo

Of Tractors and Other Tools
Everyone knows that each job has its tools that you need to have to function properly. For writing it is a computer and a dictionary, for IT it is Google and your box of gadgets, etc. Before you move into a house you are warned that there are things you need for a house. It's almost like a whole other job based on the tool set you need. If you are going to be homesteading and trying to take care of things on your own, it's an even bigger tool set.

There are any number of lists of tools that are vital for homesteading, and I'll probably go into these various tools at some point in the future when I've experienced more. For now though I'm going to stick to my personal experiences and talk about the first major tool that has been an issue.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The First Round of Research

It's not something that you do once and then move away from, it's a process that as long as you have access to more information will continue to happen. In the case of us that means if we have access to a library, the internet, or other knowledgeable people. Given that there happen to be an abundance of knowledgeable people, functioning internet for now, and plenty of libraries, I suspect there will be a large number of posts on research.

The First Idea
Let's keep chickens. That would help with ticks and provide eggs.

That was the idea that came to the mind of the lady of the house. We looked at it, and decided this seemed like a good idea. After all, chickens have multiple uses and are supposedly fairly easy to care for. Eggs are good for you, and ticks are a pain in the ass. Beyond that we know people who keep chickens, both in suburbia and in the more rural areas that we've moved out to. Ok, it's definitely functional and probably a good idea, let's look into it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Starting at the Beginning

The hardest part in any project is the beginning. It is an old aphorism, but from what I can tell entirely true. Finding where we began looking into homesteading is hard because it started relatively organically. Where this blog began though is a lot easier. This blog began because we thought, man, we're making a lot of mistakes and learning a lot of things. We should share what we are learning so that people can be wiser than we were.

If you read homesteading books they begin by suggesting ideal locations in which to set up your homestead to make things easier. If decide to homestead before you buy a house, and you can afford to do so, I strongly recommend it. Not every place is ideal for homesteading, and despite certain advantages our new house is not exactly ideal. So, evaluating the house now for homesteading, this is the list of pros and cons that come to mind.