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Month: December 2013

Big Dogs Make Big Puppies… Our Puppy Purchase

After Remy the Rooster was killed by stray dogs and guinea #8 was torn apart by a hawk, we knew we had to act quickly. I dawdled for a week while our Explorer’s engine was being worked on, and guinea #7 was attacked by a hawk. I scared it off before it could finish its work, but she was definitely not normal for a bit. More on guinea #7 later.

No more delaying.

I searched Craigslist and GoLSN.com for Australian and English Shepherd puppies. Four different families had puppies for sale in a relatively close knit area. I took our two oldest children with me and drove 2 hours east to check out our puppy options.

We had an interesting day out in the sticks, shopping for puppies.

I wish I had a photo to show you. I tried to hold a two month old Australian Shepherd in my arms while standing and it felt like I was holding a pot belly pig. In other words, awkward. These dogs were probably fed lots of grain-based food and were kept locked up inside a shed. I was very sad for them and wanted to see them enjoy life beyond the shed, but they were too old and too big for our purposes. For our children to bond with their first ever canines, I knew they needed something small enough to hold; at least to begin with.

Another Australian Shepherd seller had to go to work and couldn’t be available while we were looking. A third said we could come look, but could not actually purchase and have the dogs for two more weeks. Not that I hate driving, but making two separate trips seemed wasteful. Cross that off the list too.

Fourth Time’s the Charm

Finally, we came to Rickman, Tennessee. Stormy and his wife Dana own a couple hundred acres there. Their English Shepherds Jake and Jenny have given birth to eight or nine litters. This litter of nine English Shepherds consisted of four males and five females.

I observed the litter for about an hour and selected both a male and a female. Stormy, the owner, helped me select the male. He showed me which male he thought was best, and after listening to his explanation why, I felt convinced he was correct. It always helps to get insight from the seller. I chose the female by observing and holding each I could. All the females were shy and tried to stay a safe distance inside the pen.

On the drive home, both puppies rested in my daughter’s lap. We converted a spare rabbit cage into a temporary shelter so the dogs would be protected and stay on property until they understand where home is.

We named our male Duke and the female Dharma. Based on current behavior, Duke will be the leader of all animals on the homestead once he’s fully grown. Dharma LOVES to be held – she sticks her nose under my arm and goes to sleep pretty quickly. They both need training, which is next on the list of to dos.

My hope is that they will sleep in the barn to keep the current guineas and future chickens safe. We already have four deck cats that were supposed to be barn cats, but rarely actually visit the barn unless they’re following me. We don’t need any more deck dwellers. I’m not sure how to get the cats off the deck all day because they know where the food ends up coming from, so they stay perched and waiting. Any suggestions are welcome.

Sometimes You Have Six Animals When You Only Need Two

It’s occurred to me lately that we may have bitten off more than we will want to chew with these non-food producing animals. With seven guinea hens, four cats, and now two English Shepherds, we are overflowing with animals that cost money to keep alive.

Guineas

It seemed sensible to have the guineas first, since they are excellent tick eaters and our property was overrun with ticks in Spring and Summer. So food producer or not, these guinea hens provide an invaluable service. Reducing the tick population improves our family’s future health as well as our peace of mind. There’s nothing quite so uncomfortable as feeling your skin crawling at night because you’re not sure whether you checked yourself thoroughly enough.

Cats

The cats were the only surprise, really. We’d discussed getting a barn cat to keep the rodent populations down. Then one day, four stray cats show up on our front porch. They’re adorable and starving to death, so we start feeding them. And of course, we don’t feed ANYONE GMOS or processed food, so they get grass finished beef like the rest of us. Not cheap.

Dogs

Now that our guineas are free to roam, they need protection, hence the English Shepherds. I bought two so that they wouldn’t be lonely. I am not willing to commit to being a dog’s primary source of companionship, so we get the brother and sister combo in order to stem that potential problem. Unfortunately, there is a necessary lag time between purchasing them and working them. These seven week old pups are barely weaned. They don’t yet recognize their names. They just love to eat, to be held, and to nibble on the kitties’ tails.

So we find ourselves with a LOT of mouths to feed. And I wonder if we’re not making a mistake keeping four cats when one would suffice. And even one dog would have been enough to keep track of our land and animals for the first year or two, really.

Either we have erred on the side of bleeding hearts or we have wisely though somewhat expensively created our own animal kingdom community. Time will tell.

The Mystery of the Missing 8th Guinea

It will be no surprise to you farmers and homesteaders that we lost a free range bird. After all, it was not ten days ago that stray dogs killed our beautiful rooster, Remy. But we saw the predator in that instance, and I’d like to believe I scared them off for the foreseeable future.

But no sooner had we grown accustomed to a roosterless flock then the slowest, smallest guinea disappeared midday. With no hawks or dogs in sight, I couldn’t figure out what had become of it.

Until today. Glancing out the bedroom window, I noticed the remaining guineas getting congregating under the ShrubMonster (my least favorite shrub on the property). Wondering what they were up to, I went out to take a look around. There on the ground, through the thick twisted bare bendy branches, I saw a guinea wing and a pile of feathers. A few feet away lay another clump of guinea feathers.

Mystery #1 solved

Guinea #8 is NOT, in fact, vacationing on the beach of Destin, Florida, and it is not brooding on a clutch of eggs somewhere safe.

But how did guinea #8 get there? In the middle of the day? What sort of predator would drag it there and feed right next to the house in broad daylight?

Could it be Gigi’s giant cat, Maxwell? Or several of our deck kitties? If the cats are responsible, why are the Magnificent Seven hanging out around the remains? Could the guineas have butchered one of their own? I shudder to think .

Mystery #2 solved

As I will mention in another post, we have since learned that hawk’s are the primary culprit. They swoop down to attack, leaving an injured or partial guinea for the remaining guineas to attack. Guineas, like chickens, take pecking order seriously. The weak do NOT survive.

Solving the Pet Food Problem

Three months ago, four beautiful kittens appeared on our doorstep. It was an unexpected surprise. We chose to care for them and consider them our own. But unfortunately, our grocery bill had to flex a bit to accomodate four new hungry mouths.

Not willing to feed our cats GMOs or grains when avoidable, I began ordering beef soup bones in bulk from a vendor at the farmer’s market. And while the farmer gave me a discount, I’ve still been paying approximately $3 per pound. Assume we feed the cats at least one pound of soup bones per day, and you can see that we’ve increased our monthly grocery budget by at least $90. And that is a conservative estimate.

I checked with a different vendor at the market today and found an amazing deal: 25 pounds of beef “parts” for $35 and $2/pound soup bones with 25 lb minimum purchase.

Since we’re looking to purchase two English Shepherds, our budget was about to double at least. But now we can add the Shepherds and keep our budget steady. That’s BIG savings, guys. I’m super grateful.

I still love my other meat seller. We still buy eggs and steaks and ground beef from them. But we gotta do what we gotta do to make it work.

Now to find some dogs.

Farm or Homestead?

One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced conceptually is whether to call this property our farm or homestead. In most instances, including website domain registration, “farm” sounds better, shorter, and easier. But it doesn’t really represent what we came here for.

Much love to the city folk who said goodbye to posh city careers and opted instead to raise animals and grow food to sell products to local consumers at farmer’s markets, grocery stores, and restaurants. We absolutely need those people. I love what they’re doing. It’s just not the reason why I’m here.

For me, and this is COMPLETELY a personality thing, selling involves one of my greatest peeves: negotiation. I HATE selling. I hate the though of it because of how people typically handle negotiations. I want my offer to be my offer. Take it or leave it. So the thought of having to sell directly to consumers to make a living makes me want to crawl inside my own skin.

Homesteading is more about handling everything possible in-house. Grow your own food, make your own clothes, amend your own soil, recycle your byproducts, etc. Nothing is taken for granted and just about anything can be useful at SOME point.

But many would say that homesteading is less realistic. Who is going to live cheaply enough to afford a non-income generating homestead?

Saying Goodbey to Remy

Yesterday was a very emotional day at the homestead. While laying down in bed with Micah for a nap, Heather rushed in and shook me awake. “Daniel! Some dogs attacked Remy!” Our rooster was attacked by a band of stray dogs and left for dead.

By the time I got dressed and rushed outside, Remy was lying on the path, wheezing. The dogs had fled a yelling Mommypotamus up the hill into the forest. Remy didn’t survive. We will not discuss what happened next. After I came back from a trek into the forest, I rounded up the guineas and herded them back into the barn coop. Two of them seemed particularly traumatized and wanted nothing to do with me or my offer of food. So putting them back into the coop took 20 minutes longer than usual. After all that excitement, I had to break the news to my three year old son, Micah, who had slept through the whole ordeal. He doesn’t appear to comprehend that Remy is gone. For all he knows, Remy ran away or just moved on. He hasn’t witnessed death at his age. Our daughter cried herself to sleep last night. She loves each of our animals and considers them pets regardless of how we set expectations. I will have to get better at setting expectations, however, because she will have to grow accustomed to the reality that most chickens on our land will eventually end up someone’s dinner. Knowing that our free range / pastured birds would continue to be at risk, we discussed speeding up the process of acquiring a watchdog. I want either an English Shepherd or an Australian Shepherd. Even these breeds occasionally get a taste for fowl and cannot be stopped.

What Propane?

Turns out that a 40% full propane tank can become a 0% propane tank in a month or less. Not sure how that happened, but it did. I realized the heater was pushing cold air into the house this morning, but couldn’t get back to dealing with it until after lunch.

Thankfully, in this instance we only lose central heat. Our stove, oven and water heater are all electric, so in this instance we are still fully functional. With two plug-in space heaters in the house, we can heat the two bedrooms at night and bring them into the living room if necessary during the day.

One of the two space heaters must have been too much for the fuse to handle. Power went out in both bathroom and bedroom. We replaced the fuse shortly after and power was restored. But I don’t think we’ll be using the space heater in the bathroom for a while.

More sleet in the forecast for tonight. We’ll see in the morning whether we can make it to the Sunday morning church service.

Freezing Rain, Farmer’s Markets, and Guineas

It looks like #Icenado, i.e. #Icemageddon, passed through Texas and has made its way through Middle Tennessee. Looks like they got the worst of it early on. Yesterday we had a rain and freezing rain mix fall which all froze overnight in 19 degree weather. I woke up this morning to a frozen deck for the first time. Not so much we couldn’t make it to the car, but enough to hold our children’s hands while they walked.

The Franklin Farmer’s Market was a ghost town by 10am. Guess customers only want local and healthy when it’s convenient. Sadly, three or four of our favorite farmers/vendors were absent as well. It happens. Many of these farmers travel 45 minutes to two hours to make it to this Saturday market.

The guineas got a late start outside. I waited until after noon to let them out of the coop, and dusted the ground inside and outside the coop door with Hiland Naturals Non-GMO turkey grower so they’d get warmed up before venturing out for the day.

An interesting note: since we left the guineas in the coop for a full three months before letting them roam, they are very attached to the coop. Whenever they feel unsafe, they hightail it back to the barn coop. In fact, I woke up from a nap and saw it was dusk, and rushed out the door to find the guineas before it got too dark. They didn’t answer my calls because they were already roosting inside the coop. Love it. I left the coop open all day so they could return if they chose.

But those three months of “Guinea, guinea, guinea!” calls at feeding time seems to have conditioned them to my voice. Now they show up on the front porch when they hear my voice through the window screens. The photo above was taken before the freeze.

It feels just a little bit emptier on the homestead without Remy the Rooster. I know you’re not supposed to get attached to potential food, but he was both beautiful and a pleasure to have around. He will be missed.

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