Monday, April 14, 2014

Papa Bear and Mocha checking out the new fire ring

It's been a long winter.  Arctic cold that lingered for months made it seem as though spring would never arrive.

But every now and then between the snow and hail storms we're tasting a bit of spring.

Friday was one of those "I-think-spring-is-actually-coming" days.

A beautiful fire ring by Adler Welding in Sheridan, WY

We packed an entire weekend of things into that one day, from picking up feed and a syrup hydrometer to laying out our hay bale garden.

We also initiated Papa Bear's new fire ring, and had our first grilled hamburgers of the season.

Close up details of our custom fire ring by Adler Welding, Sheridan, WY

Alas, the warm weather didn't last, and rest of the weekend was cold and rainy, with bursts of hail and threats of snow.  We spent most of the next two days inside boiling down sap and working on taxes.

And laughing at the antics of our new kitten.

mocha stalks something in the fringes

I know I said not to boil your sap inside the house, and that is true.  But for finishing syrup when there isn't much liquid left to evaporate it's easy to finish it on your stove top.

This year we invested in a syrup hydrometer (less than $20) to measure the density of our syrup as it neared completion. It has a red line on it and will float at the line when it is at the correct density for syrup.

testing maple syrup

Boil it too long and you'll get maple sugar crystals in your jars.  Done that!

Boil it too short and it will mold and/or ferment.  ahem.  Done that, too.

So, just like Goldilocks, we boiled it down just right.

Canning maple syrup

A word of warning about finishing syrup - it will go from not done to DONE RIGHT NOW very quickly.  Ours indicated the change by suddenly boiling over on the stove.

Be close by when finishing off your syrup to avoid a sticky situation.  yes, i love corny puns.

Out of roughly 6 gallons of sap we got about 3.5 pints of syrup.  Not bad for basically only 3 trees that gave any sap this year.

Three pints or so of maple syrup

{Sorry, not enough syrup to sell to anyone!  We have however planted 25 more maple trees, so get in touch with us in about, oh, 40 years or so...}

We served up some of our newly finished syrup over these gluten-free biscuits this morning and it was NOM.

And, despite the cold rain pelting down outside, it tasted just like spring.

Until I woke up this morning to a winter wonderland.

old man winter strikes again

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about boiling maple sap into syrup

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Smitten by a kitten

It started innocently enough. We stopped at our neighbor's house to talk about baling some small square bales of hay for us again this year.  We were so tickled to find someone in the neighborhood that was still baling small square bales.

Most farmers only make large round bales nowadays, since everybody (except us) owns a skid steer.  If making hay by yourself, large rounds are the way to go, since you can  move them mechanically.  For those of us without any large equipment, small squares are an absolute requirement.

Without a tractor, rake, baler or skid steer, we have to rely on other farmers with equipment to come and do the job for us.  Their pay is half of the harvest.

{Doing it "for halves," is what they call it.}

Because our hay needs are small, this works well for us, and we still get enough extra hay to sell every year.

Papa making a new friend

As we stood around in the kitchen talking about hay cutting patterns and how many days to dry the hay before baling, she found us.  A small Siamese kitten with dark points, a cream mustache, and a gigantic purr.

Papa Bear picked her up right away.  She was extremely friendly.

It was then it happened.  Our hay guy asks, "Would you like to keep her?  She's a barn cat that we had to bring in this winter because she got too skinny.  She's yours if you want her!"

Uh oh.

Cute but awkward!

We left the hay guy's house without her, but a week later we found ourselves asking each other, "have you thought about that Siamese kitten at all?"

Both of us had been.

{Smitten by a kitten}

Then we got to talking and thinking.  When we got Mojo in 2004, we talked about getting a kitten every 5 years, so we'd always have a young cat around whenever we had an old cat.

Our pattern was cut a bit short when we moved to Lindstrom in 2008 and found a tortoise shell calico kitten wandering the woods by our house. We kept her. (Kali)

Then a year later, our daughter brought home two barn cats and we ended up keeping one of them - Zoey.


We were full of cats.

But that was five years ago.  It was time for a new kitten to inject some exuberance into the household and the older cats.

And here she was.

So last weekend we called up our hay guy and asked if the offer still stood.  It did.  And less than an hour later, we brought our new kitten home.

The older cats are less than enthused about her.  But they'll grow to love her.

Sunlight and kitten

We're sure of it.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about smitten kittens

Sunday, April 6, 2014

PB and Gypsy hauling sap and playing fetch

As we settle into our second year on our farm, we are beginning to develop our annual rhythm of things that happen each season.

Ordering seeds, turkeys and chickens; hatching turkeys, tapping trees, shearing, getting the garden prepared, moving everyone out to pasture, mucking the deep litter out of the barn.

PB drills a hole for a maple tree tap

A couple of weekends ago Papa Bear and I went out and tapped our whopping 5 maple trees, and by this weekend we had collected enough sap to start boiling it down into syrup.

Last year we made the mistake of boiling down 8 gallons of sap inside our kitchen.

Using tubing for tapping maples

Do not do this.  Just don't.

So this year we got a turkey fryer to do the bulk of the boiling.

Turkey fryer for maple sap boiling

It's been working awesome so far.  It holds 5 gallons of sap and brings it to a boil SO much faster than the stove.  Plus then you don't get 7.75 gallons of maple vapor running amuck in your house.

Moisture is good.  7.75 gallons of moisture in a small space is bad.

Boiling sap in a turkey fryer

We hope to get a little more sap next weekend and finish boiling it all down.  I doubt we'll get more than a couple of pints this year.  It hasn't been a good run, and we have very few trees.

But we sure have enjoyed the little bit of syrup we made last year, and no doubt we'll enjoy this year's, too. It tastes especially sweet knowing it came from your own land, and the labor of your own hands.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about maple syrup

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sweetgrass Tiger Bronze turkey cross

After sitting on my hands for 48 hours, I was finally able to open my incubator and remove my hatched turkey poults. You can clearly see the egg tooth on several of the poults below.

Wikipedia really needs some photos of something cute on that page like my turkeys our chickens, dontcha think?

Day-old turkey poults

The last few eggs to hatch are almost always weaker birds, and our hatch was no exception.  The last poult to hatch died.  The last two that hatched and survived were much smaller and weaker than the rest of the hatchlings.

One had a splayed leg/spraddle leg, which we fixed with a splint like they show in this post: Spraddle leg causes and treatments.

Turkey poults in their temporary brooder

I never got a decent photo of the little turkey, which we nicknamed "Blue" after the color of the Vetrap that we used for the splint.  He/she only wore it for two days and then its legs were perfectly straight so the tape came off.

Temporary observation brooder bin

After any hatch (chickens or turkeys) I always put them into a small, temporary brooder that I keep in my kitchen where I can observe them all for a day or two.  If someone is struggling, they stay here longer.

Turkey poult exploring the brooder

I make this brooder using a plastic bin minus the plastic cover, using chicken or rabbit wire for a mesh (breathable) top.  We added a brooder light without a big heat light bulb - instead we used a small 25 watt red bulb.  A red bulb is better for the babies when they are trying to sleep.

This small wattage doesn't generate enough heat, so we also added a heating pad underneath and a small electric heater near the brooder.  Temps should be between 95-100 F for new hatchlings.  It is advisable to set up this brooder several days before your hatch, as it will take some tweaking to get the temperature right.

After I'm assured everyone is doing fine, they all go into stock tank brooders in the basement.

  • Wood stove pellets or other appropriate bedding that offers secure footing (nothing slippery like newspaper).  I find one bag per stock tank sufficient for a couple of weeks, depending on the number of birds in the space.  Pellets are SUPER absorbent, and smell good, too. 
Wood pellets make super absorbing bedding in brooders
  • Stock water tank (available at all farm supply stores).  The benefits of stock tanks for brooders are several.  They have curved ends, which prevents chicks/poults from piling up on top of each other. Square corners can cause massive pile-ups and suffocation. They won't leak. They're made to hold water, so no worries like you have with cardboard brooders getting soggy and leaking.  They are easy to clean out at the end of use. Especially polycarb tanks. Shovel out the pellets (add them to your compost pile) then spray them out with a hose.  Used galvanized stock tanks can usually be found second hand for cheap.  Ours was left here on the farm when we bought it. It might not hold water perfectly anymore, but the pellets in the bottom of the tank are super absorbent and if we were really worried, we could set it on a tarp or other piece of plastic. 
Stock tank brooders for turkeys or chickens
  • Brooder light fixture and heat light bulb (red) 250 watt. 
  • Thermometers (one for every tank)
Day-old poults and chicks need 95-100 F
  • Feeders - turkeys need a higher protein starter mix than chickens.  We get ours (organic) at our local feed mill.  It is 26% protein. At first we just use the feeder base, then as the poults eat more, add the top part that holds a quart of feed at a time.
  • Waterers - I do not like open waterers like the one pictured here. The chicks/poults inevitably soil it with bedding and poop.  Since we never put medication in our feed or water, I really don't want poo in the water trough. When the chicks are a bit older, they will readily drink from a rabbit/guinea pig hanging bottle, which keeps the water much, much cleaner.  But for babies, we are still looking for a better way to water that the turkey poults will easily catch onto. We do put a small amount of apple cider vinegar into the water to help control coccidia naturally.  
stock tank brooder

Again you want to set up the brooder several days in advance of putting birds in it so the pellets can warm up and you can make sure the temperature setting is correct.  To adjust the heat, raise or lower the heat lamp above the tank.

For every week of age, drop the temperature in the tank by five degrees until they are fully feathered and no longer in need of supplemental heat.  We will usually transition our birds into the Cheep Shed before putting them out on pasture for the season.  

heritage turkeys at LitengÄrd

At a few days old we also start bringing chunks of sod (with dirt and grass) into the brooder for the chicks to play with. I've read the small amount of coccidia in the soil will help them gradually build up an immunity to it so there isn't a large hit to their system when they go out on pasture.  

So far, this system has been working well for us.  This is our second year hatching and our fourth year using stock tank brooders.  The only thing I would change is getting a few more tanks so I can have a lot more birds at the same time!

Cheers - 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Sweetgrass turkey egg beginning to hatch!

It all starts with a "pip," a small hole near the fat end of the egg, made by the poult's egg tooth.

{A poult is a baby turkey.  A chick is a baby chicken}

From there the chick will continue to break holes along a line around the end of the egg, called "zipping."

Sweetgrass heritage turkey egg "zipped"

Once the break line has circled the egg, the poult will then start pushing the pieces of the shell apart.

Sweetgrass heritage poult hatching!

The whole process can take a long time, sometimes more than 24 hours from the time you see a "pip" until completely hatched out.  Hatching is hard work!

This year I sat on my hands and resisted the urge to take the first hatchlings out of the incubator and put them into their temporary brooder.

Almost hatched!I read that opening the incubator even once during a hatch can completely halt the hatching process due to the severe changes in temperature and humidity that occur when the incubator is opened.  Pipped eggs are especially sensitive to any sudden changes in environment.  The loss of humidity can be enough to make the membrane dry out and the poult will die before it can complete the hatching process.

Turkey eggs normally incubate for 28 days, but mine tend to start pipping on day 24 and hatching on day 25.  The vast majority of my eggs hatched on day 26 this year.  When we woke up Friday (day 27) 25 had hatched so far and two more were in progress.

Resting before the last move

Final count: 30 eggs, 1 removed at 2 weeks (not fertile); out of 29 fertile eggs, 28 hatched, one died, one did not hatch.  We opened it and it was fully mature.  We'll never know why that one didn't hatch.

But we're ecstatic with 27 new heritage turkey poults!  If we had purchased that many online the expense would have been close to $400 with shipping.  And since we already have 40 turkeys sold for this coming Thanksgiving, 27 is a good start.  We'll still need to purchase a few to round out the order.

Made it! Hello world!

Next year I'm thinking two incubators... or maybe Papa Bear can make one big one for me.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about hatching heritage turkey eggs

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Gypsy with begging eyes

It's hard to believe I have been officially "retired" from my off-the-farm job for two months already. My image of my new, idyllic, carefree life full of long naps and long walks has not quite come to fruition.

Something about taxes needing prepped and fence lines needing brushed keep coming up as higher priorities.

{Mostly tax prep.}

Nevertheless, in between chores and taxes and fence lines I have been enjoying a new sense of time and space that comes from not being driven by anyone else's clock for the first time in over 25 years (longer if you count the schedule I had to keep while in school).

Gypsy waits

My treks to the back fence line (the farthest corner from the house) gives me ample opportunity to play with Gypsy.  She loves fetching things more than any other activity.  She loves chasing sticks so much that I had to train her not to chase after the brambles I tossed aside when I was cutting them off the fence line.

Gypsy waits for me to finish brushing the fenceline

Brushing the fence line is best done in winter I discovered, when I can wear all of my insulated barn clothing (protection from scratches) and can work hard without getting too hot.  No bugs, either.  Which is handy when you have to cut a thorny bush that has a wasp nest bigger than a basketball embedded in it.

Besides taxes and fence lines, we've been eagerly anticipating the end of the month when our turkeys will hatch.  We've loaded up our little Styrofoam incubator (the cheapest one the farm supply store carried) with our own Sweetgrass heritage turkey eggs.

Incubator with Sweetgrass heritage turkey eggs

I've been carefully turning them three times a day and monitoring the heat and humidity levels.  We've candled them twice and only removed one egg, so I'm crossing my fingers for a successful hatch

30 Sweetgrass turkey eggs incubating

And the lambs - well, the lambs are just fine.  Fat and sassy and happy.  Just waiting for spring, like the rest of us.

Baa baa black sheep...

Cheers -
Gypsy farmgirl writes about March happenings

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Such sweetness

I try to keep a good attitude, I really do, but lately this extended deep freeze and wind chills to the double digits below zero has been driving me cranky.

Elli whispers secrets to another sheep
"Psst: wanna hear a secret? Winter is never going to end!!"
Chores last eve got me so riled up I smashed my empty buckets and sled together just to keep from breaking something more valuable in my frustration.

Gypsy waits patiently for a game of fetch

And it's not even like there were things going wrong.

Granted, the sled always seems to tip over with full buckets of water now as I move over the frozen river of ice that used to be a driveway.

Papa Bear snuggles with Hunny, our Velveteen Lop rabbit

And I fell down on the ice while smashing aforementioned buckets together.

And I get awful tired of lugging buckets of water out of my bathtub, the outside water spigot having been frozen since early December.

Gypsy wonders when the next play session will be
really, who wouldn't smile at this face?
But it was more than that.

I've just plain had enough of this winter.  It's time to let up.  It's time to crack the lid on this chest freezer and give us some room to breathe again.

Little flock of sheep at the Little Farm

So to cheer myself up I'm posting some photos here of the things that still make me happy.

To highlight how much I still have to be grateful for, despite my weariness and crankiness and dwindling propane and frosty windows.

Jack Frost on my kitchen window

I hope they bring a smile to your face, too.

Cheers -

Gypsy Farmgirl is tired of this arctic winter

{P.S. - if you missed my post about adopting Gypsy, our border collie, feel free to read it here!}

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