This is a pretty common scene at the homestead
We got some heavy, wet snow last night and with the leaves still on the trees, it’s caused quite a mess. We lost three of our five apple trees that are producing, including hundreds of apples that hadn’t ripened yet, and about 30 other smaller trees plus a bunch of branches. Didn’t lost power, and no real damage to anything.
The ducks, though, are unfazed.
I went for a run out at Buck Pond campground yesterday. The car thermometer said 68, but I don’t put a ton of trust in those things. They’re part of the car, which is warm, so how can it be an accurate reading?
It was only as big as my ring, or about the size of a quarter. I snapped a few pictures and we continued, slowly, down to the beach where the loons were already calling.
On our way back, I started to hear this sound that I hadn’t heard on the way in. There’s a little kettle-hole pond on the side of the road, and the frogs were going crazy.
It appears that spring is indeed, here.
Since it was so nice out, we took the ducklings out into the garden to wander around. This was their first time outside, and they dutifully followed my step-son around and ate little grass hoppers out of his hands.
The chickens (we’re up to 13 now, with only Brownie remaining of the original flock of four) were quite keen on finding out what the ducks were and why they seemed to be getting treats while the chickens were not.
We only kept the ducks outside for a little while, and like any other pets, I assume that they’ll now be crying to venture outside all the time now. But like any other pet, they’re cute enough when they’re young to make up for any hassles they may cause.
Hi all, I know it’s been a while, and I am really sorry about that.
So, to catch you all up, I’ve gotten married, moved onto a great homestead and am working as the outdoors writer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. I promise to do a better job going forward of detailing our homesteading experience.
Anyway, to help soothe over any hard feelings about my lack of effort on Middle of the Trail, here’s a picture of our new ducklings, Forbin and Ophelia.
Well, no one can ever say that I have never had my finger inside of a live chicken. While there’s not a ton going on at the homestead this time of year, the chickens have been keeping me pretty busy. But tonight takes the cake.
Whitey was acting strange all day. She’s usually the sketchiest one of the girls, so her allowing me to pet her was definitely out of the ordinary. With her being so lethargic, I decided that it would be best to bring her inside for the night. She can be warm and get plenty of rest, plus if she had something contagious this will hopefully keep the other birds from getting it.
I did some research and found that the three most common issues would be mites, worms, or being egg-bound. I checked her for mites and was good there, and I have to wait for her to poop to check for worms, so the next thing on the list was to check for a stuck egg.
I felt her belly and didn’t feel an egg or anything abnormal, so the next way to see if she has a stuck egg is to reach inside and feel. I enlisted my nine-year-old step son to help and we scooped her up. I put on a latex glove and smeared some medical lubricant on my finger. We parted the feathers around Whitey’s vent and as he giggled nervously and backed up a couple of steps he commented that her vent looked like a mouth. He didn’t get any closer.
I felt up inside the vent to see I could feel an egg, and found nothing. I still have to check for worms in the morning, but am hoping she just had a rough day and wasn’t feeling well. I doubt very much that my finger helped, but we won’t really know until tomorrow.
With the unrelenting cold forcing the chickens to stay inside more than normal, we’ve had some behavioral issues as well. Stella had taken to eating her own and the other hens’ eggs. She was definitely the instigator, trying to get to eggs that hadn’t even been laid yet by pecking at the other hens as they laid in the nesting box. But once the eggs were cracked, it was a noisy free-for-all that left all the chickens with with yolk on them.
This was a problem for the obvious reason that we were getting only an egg or two a day, and also in the nasty behavior department. They had plenty of water, and the eggs we were getting had rock-hard shells so it wasn’t a calcium deficiency. Sometimes an egg will just break on it’s own and once they get a taste, the chickens can’t help themselves.
But since it was such a serious issue and not a random egg now and then, I had to take action. I checked the coop as often as I could, and made sure they had more than enough food and water, as well as giving them supplemental treats like mealworms and fresh greens. Nothing I did for the first couple of weeks worked.
So I ordered some fake eggs, made of ceramic. They arrived and looked exactly like the eggs Brownie lays, and best of all, they are rock hard. They’re so realistic that I added a big “F” to each egg in permanent marker so I could tell they weren’t real eggs.
I opened the coop and tossed the two fake eggs into the corner area where the girls lay. Immediately Stella came over and started checking them out. She eyed them all sorts of ways, tilting her head this way and that. Suddenly, she took a shot and pecked one of the eggs.
Her beak and head bounced off the egg with a loud and sharp “crack.” She once again eyed the eggs and then wandered off. The next morning there were four real eggs in the corner in addition to the two fake ones, and we’ve been getting between four and six eggs a day ever since. I may have to occasionally stick my finger into a chicken butt, but at least now I can keep getting eggs in return.
The chickens are happily pecking away in their new coop and run, and I do feel better having them in a fully insulated coop, now that the night temperatures are getting into the single digits. They’re all huddled on the perch, snuggling to stay warm. At least now I can flip a switch and they have heat. Last winter it was warming a piece of granite on top of the woodstove and then running it out there to try and keep them warm. I like that they won’t be in my living room this year. At all.
But the weather has limited the outdoor activities. I don’t mind warm rain or cold snow, but cold rain is annoying. I don’t want to go hiking and there’s no snow for skiing, and with such a little piece of property, even mine and Pico’s walks have to be on the road. It’s not too bad, but he is still getting used to the leash again, and I miss being able to just let him run around unattended.
One benefit of this type of weather though is that I don’t feel too bad doing indoor projects. A couple months ago I made a new cutting board for us and read that it could be sealed with beeswax. I had a huge block of wax around, and so I spent the evening melting wax, rubbing it on the board, and then heating the whole thing in the oven over and over to make a nice sealant for the cutting board.
I used the board the next day, and most of the wax came off when I washed it. Seemed like a good idea, but in reality, it just didn’t pan out. I got some mineral oil and treated the board, and it’s now nice and waterproof. But I still have a huge block of beeswax just hanging around.
So I had to figure out what I was going to do with the wax. I didn’t want to make candles, as I used to make them all the time out at the cabin. I would make them all the time by melting down the little stubs of the candles I burned for light. So as I was sitting on the couch one day, my stepson asked if we had any lip balm. His lips were chapped and he wanted some relief.
I ordered empty lip balm tubes and picked up some peppermint essential oil and coconut oil in town, and waited patiently for the tubes to arrive. And as soon as they did, I thought I’d have my answer of what to do with all that beeswax. Making the lip balm should have been really simple. Melt the oils and wax together, pour it into the tubes, and let them cool.
I would have done the whole melting process on my woodstove, but hey, now I have a microwave! We gathered all the materials, and he was pretty excited. After making him wash his hands a couple of times (who knows what a nine-year-old is doing when out of sight) we got into it. After thirty seconds in the microwave, the beeswax was barely melted, but that was apparently enough for the microwave. It was dead. It was also bad timing, since I had promised this kid his very own lip balm.
We moved to the range top and managed to melt enough to make a few tubes of the lip balm. It’s got a menthol-coconut taste that all three of us love, and it actually works really well. Plus, since it’s in tubes, he doesn’t have to stick his nasty fingers into the stuff to put it on.
I love having the convenience of modern appliances, and the fact that whole process didn’t require a headlamp was a really nice touch. But I was reminded of the fraility of those electronics. Sure, it would have been slower to do this on the woodstove, but at least the woodstove wouldn’t have died in the middle of it.
The sound of the furnace startles me a little every time it fires up. It sounds like a car pulling in the driveway or something like that, and I am still not quite used to the sound and commotion. Not that it’s not welcome. We’ve got about six inches of snow on the ground, not terrible, but it did seem kind of sudden.
Last week it was warm and nice out, and even though we know it’s inevitable, the snow just sort of seemed to come out of nowhere. After moving an old set of tires into the garage and digging out and picking up a few other things that were out in the yard, I feel like our outside stuff is all set. Except for the huge new chicken coop that is sitting in the middle of the driveway. Audrey’s not all that happy about the current location of our new coop, and with the temperatures dropping, it would be nice to move the girls into the new coop.
While moving twice and having to rent a house have not lent themselves to accomplishing much in the way of homesteading activity, we have managed to move more in that direction. We started by expanding our flock of chickens by adding three new hens and I built them a new coop. The old coop served surprisingly well for the amount I spent on it (which was the cost of a box of screws). Midget and Whitey unfortunately got frostbite on their combs but they’re none the worse for wear.
But now, we’ve got a small house for them to live in this winter, but it’s in the wrong place and we want to move it before we move the girls in. That may not happen to be honest. This coop is big and will be very, very hard to move. Not the smartest thing to do when renting a house, but the girls will be warmer and more secure than they ever have been.
We want to add to the flock in the spring, so I built the coop big enough for twelve chickens to live comfortably. There’s six nesting boxes, twenty-four square feet of floor space, a five foot high ceiling, a four foot perch and two foot swing made from an old ax handle. Fully insulated and painted and trimmed, this coop is actually nicer than my cabin, and will hold the heat better. And instead of heating big rocks on the woodstove to run out to the coop, I can now just plug in a heat lamp. It’s not a bad trade, given the circumstances.
But until spring, we’re sort of spinning our wheels. Other than taking care of the chickens, I have plans to make some lip balm and another batch of soap, and start ordering seeds for the garden we’ll plant next year. I would be making lip balm today, but a couple of the ingredients that I ordered are stuck in Buffalo. I have a feeling I won’t see them any time soon.
Hot showers. Man, I could literally write an entire column about how much I love hot showers. It is such a pleasure to take a shower each morning. I used to get up and throw wood in the stove and then stand there and let the heat wash over me for a while before I got my day going, but now I can let the heat of a hot shower actually wash over me. It’s one of the main reasons I get out of bed every day. Well, that and work and animals to take care of and my soon-to-be wife and stepson. But really, the shower is the best part of my morning.
It’s nice to be back after the summer hiatus. Audrey didn’t want to move into my cabin, and I can’t say I blame her. And her apartment was only a little larger than my cabin, and just as drafty. So we looked for a house to rent starting in the spring, and found one rather quickly. The rental housing market up here is cut-throat, and we were lucky to get into a house that we could afford with floors that weren’t too uneven and decent windows and insulation. Three weeks after we moved in the house was sold, and we were on the hunt again.
It took us most of the summer to find another house to rent. We found one and have now settled in. Well, physically anyway. I am still in awe of the wonders of modern living. Light switches and hot water and indoor pooping are all wonderful things. Unfortunately, the light switches are in odd places so I’m still sporting the headlamp every single day.
And despite the changes, Pico is still lying on the couch next to me and Midget is crowing in the yard. We’re working on a new coop for the flock, which has grown and changed some. We have four new girls, but Blondie was causing trouble, so I took her to a friend’s. We lost one hen a few months ago to a fox in the yard, but other than that the girls are doing good. We get far more eggs than we can eat, and two of the new hens haven’t even started laying yet. We’re going to be giving away a lot of eggs.
As I get used to modern amenities and family life, I still think about the cabin a lot. It was harder to move out of that place than any other house I’ve lived in. Hell, most of my apartments I couldn’t wait to get out of. But that cabin was more than just a house, it was home. It was a part of my everyday life. And that’s the biggest difference I’ve found. I don’t care about my house now so much. But the loss of the cabin has been replaced by my new family, and it’s definitely been a worth-while trade.