Sunday, November 27, 2011

I'm tired of moving. 

Every muscle in my body hurts, including my finger and toe muscles.

Even my boxes are tired of moving (our 4th move in 6 years).

We missed Thanksgiving (but celebrated earlier in the week thank Goodness).

We missed Papa Bear's birthday, which was yesterday, a day in which we spent the last few ounces of strength we had left putting the last load into storage and packing up the cats and our Hawaii gear and hitting the road about 60 hours behind our scheduled leave date.

We filled THREE storage units.


I bet there is nobody else in this country {and maybe even the world} who currently has, in storage, an ATV, disc tiller, drag harrow, 200' of electric poultry netting AND a chicken coop hoop house.

{Note to self: next time, sell the chicken coop before moving.}

How, exactly, does one pack up and leave the mainland with a house and garages and barn full of stuff, a herd of six alpacas, a dozen laying hens, and three house cats?

I'll tell you one thing, it's not easy or for the faint of heart.  By the end of moving, we both feel like we've been in a prizefight and lost. I've smashed fingers, twisted ankles, strained back muscles and suffered through three weeks of insomnia and a ball of stress in my chest that made eating even my favorite foods slightly nauseating. 

Kind of reminds me of being pregnant come to think of it.

{No, I'm not.}

As Tim Ferriss writes in his book the Four Hour Work Week, Dreamlining includes dreaming big enough dreams that the dream can pull you through all of the annoying and challenging obstacles.

We had plenty of those.

In addition to those three storage units full of our crap belongings, we now have animals spread all over the country, from La Crosse and Ontario, WI to Lester Prairie, MN to Sheridan, WY, not to mention our 1971 Airstream Trailer parked at a friend's farm near Houston, MN.

I will be writing more about the specifics of the move (alpacas, chickens, cats, vehicles, stuff) in more detail over the next couple of weeks.

But first, I must catch up on some much-needed sleep.  And get a massage.  And eat.  And sleep.

Good-bye, Little Farm.

Hello Hawaii.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

There is nothing sadder than an empty chicken coop, one that has been filled with life and chatter and joy all summer long.

Except perhaps for an empty pasture which used to be graced by peacefully grazing alpacas.  When they weren't wrestling, spitting or fighting that is.

I'm sorry for the lack of updates lately, we've been flying Mach 7 with our hair on fire for the past week, and it's not done yet.

Suffice it to say, I will catch you up on what's been going on here once we catch our own breath a bit.

In the meantime, have a very merry Thanksgiving and enjoy time with your families!

Blessings -
Gypsy Farmgirl prepares to go live in Hawaii for the winter

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's moving week here, just a little over one week until we move from the Little Farm to an organic farm in Hawaii for three months.

I've been waking up in a panic most mornings long before it's time to get out of bed, my mind spinning.  So many details, so many boxes to pack, so much poo to move...

{wait, did she just say "poo to move?"}

Somehow this has a nagging feeling of "deja vu'."  And not in a good way.

When we moved here last August, we discovered with dismay that a large amount of horse manure would need to be cleared out of the paddock near the barn and mucked out of the barn before we could move our boys in.

This required hiring a neighbor farmer with a Bobcat (at our own expense) to clear the paddock area, and also mucking the barn by hand with a manure fork (the barn doors were too narrow to fit the Bobcat inside). 

Because the manure in the barn had been compacted by horses for what I can only assume was months or years, it was packed in like cement from wall to wall and the resulting removal was back-breaking work. When ground level had finally been reached, the dirty line on the barn walls where the manure had recently resided was nearly 3' high.

All of the horse manure was moved to a back corner of the pasture, a weedy, brushy area the horses had been fenced out of, and the resulting manure pile was about 8' high and at least that wide in diameter.

Ever since we cleaned out the paddock and the barn, I've been doing a darn-good job of keeping it all clean.  I pick up the boys' piles every week (alpacas poop in a group, making the task pretty simple), diligently hauling it out to the manure pile, which I couldn't add to the top of (too tall) so we sort of started a smaller pile beside the Big Mother Pile. A baby poo pile, so to speak. My shovel is planted into the top of it in the picture above.

Towards the end of last week, our landlord sent an e-mail saying something to the effect of "Oh and by the way you need to remove the big manure pile from the back pasture before you move out..." a statement which has led us to the following conclusions:

  • Apparently she has has forgotten whose manure that is and where it came from.
  • Apparently she has forgotten we had to spend a considerable amount of time and money to move it out of the paddock and barn in the first place.
  • Apparently she has no appreciation for the fact that during our residency, her barn and paddock actually stayed poo-free {we will move the alpaca beans, although they should be put to use in the square foot gardens}, a feat she was unable to accomplish during her own. 
  • Apparently she is slightly insane.  
I wonder if she has even considered exactly what her barn & paddock would look like if we moved it back in for her?

If only I had a Bobcat....................

Friday, November 11, 2011

Last weekend Papa Bear and I enjoyed a wonderful getaway at New Sundborn Ranch, a Swedish homestead near Westby, WI owned and operated by Loran Nordgren.

This Scandinavian compound and its 410 surrounding acres are nestled in a deep valley called Runge Hollow, where Loran's nearest neighbors are a full half mile away.  Solitude and wildlife abound here.

It was, for me, a dream come true, a dream inspired back in October of 1997 when I pulled from the pages of Country Living Magazine a story about Loran's homestead with a full-color spread featuring his guest house, the Carl Larsson Cottage. These pages went into my "Dream Home Inspirations" binder, which I still have, and still peruse on a regular basis.  I have always hoped of adding some Scandinavian details to our own little homestead some day.

Flash forward 14 years to my summer at the Big Farm.  Justin has agreed to let me tag along on a farm visit to assess a herd of alpacas, a skill I have not yet acquired. Unbeknownst to me, we are about to enter the New Sundborn ranch. After making our way down the long driveway and coming around a curve almost at the end of it, there it is - the Swedish homestead in all of its glory, on a beautiful, sunny, summer day.

I about died and fell out of the vehicle.

After meeting the alpacas, Loran, after hearing me ramble about saving the magazine article from 14 years earlier, graciously gave us a tour of the main house and guest cottage, explaining how the guest cottage, which sleeps 9-11 people, was now available for rent.  My mind started spinning with plans to have the entire family over once we settled in the area.

It was in this 3-story guest cottage that PB and I found ourselves last weekend, a surprise thank-you gift/get-away weekend from Justin, soaking up the colorfully painted woodwork and feeling like we had been transported into a fairy tale.

The cottage had all the amenities visitors would need, including a well-appointed kitchen and 2 1/2 baths, one of which included a digitally controlled shower! (Turns out we like our shower water about 103 degrees).

I wandered around the 3 levels of the cottage, grinning from ear-to-ear and pinching myself, wondering if I really were in a dream.

We had 7 beds to choose from and I was sorely tempted to take one of the colorfully painted alcove beds designed for visiting grandchildren.  But in the end we chose the soothing blue bedroom with a view of the pond.

On Saturday morning we were greeted by the sight of wild turkeys grazing the sod runway across the pond from the cottage, near the airplane hangar.  After breakfast Loran gave us the keys to his ATV, a John Deer Gator, that we used to explore a few of the many trails running around his property.

The afternoon was spent traveling to visit farms and friends in the area, and we were beat when we returned that evening, just in time to crawl into our nice bed.

Sunday offered us time to greet the alpacas and explore an old logging road by foot, and I always love a good hike. I realized despite a summer of climbing hills on an almost daily basis, I am no longer in condition for hills, and we had to stop several times on our ascent to the ridgetop (the only place it so happens that either of our phones would work - AT&T or Verizon).

All too soon, it was time to pack up and head out.  My only regret was that it all went too quickly.  I would have loved to do more relaxing and exploring.

But that just means there will be more to enjoy when we return again, which I am certain we will.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Recently an Instagram follower of mine @gellawella asked me how I get my chickens to be "so secure and familiar and wanting to hang around you?"

I was so tickled to get this question, because I had no idea my chickens appeared secure.

But it seemed like a good topic to write about, because I actually think about this a lot and act intentionally to increase trust with all of my critters.  To earn a chicken's trust is really very easy and can be summed up in just two words:

Be Kind

I could end the post right there, but as you know I am way too verbose for that.  And besides, that's not very informative if you're not sure how to be kind to a chicken.

{Bubble baths?  Pedicures?}

Think Kind Thoughts

The first step in being kind is to have kind thoughts towards them before you even head outside.  If you're going out to do something difficult, some unpleasant herd-management task, and you're all tense and nervous and worried about having a bad hair day, they will react badly, too. 

If you're angry or frustrated about something entirely unrelated to your chickens or critters, and carry that energy into the barnyard, they will read you a mile away, and that's how far away they'll stay from you.

If you expect bad behavior from your animals, they will give you those results.

If you don't even like chickens {is that possible?} but are raising them anyway, they will sense that {as will all creatures and people you don't like} and stay away from you {and so will I}.

Speak Softly and Nicely

The next step is to talk nicely to them.  For me that is a soft, sing-song voice.  "Hey girls, how are my girls?  How are my sweetie-little-chickie-babies?"  When they hear me talking calmly, they tend to stay calm themselves.

{Sounds a bit saccharine, I know.  But nobody is listening, so just indulge your inner girlie-girl.  It will help keep your mind on thinking kind thoughts, too. And it will give you practice on complimenting someone else, if that is difficult for you.}

Move Slowly and Deliberately

When I am out in the coop or in the barnyard and they are milling around me, I try to move slowly (still talking softly to them of course) and let them know what I am doing as I'm moving around them.  If I have to approach a chicken, I try to veer slightly off to the side of them vs. directly at them.  Most critters will feel threatened if you walk straight at them.  By veering slightly, I can see my chicken relax and realize they don't have to move out of my way or deal with me as a threat.

If they are moving through a gate with me, I move very slowly and let them go at their own pace.  They in turn teach me to appreciate the moment and not rush through my tasks.  If I move too quickly or suddenly, they scatter and scare, reminding me to slow down. 

Bring Treats

Before I started spending half of every week at the Big Farm this summer, I was bringing my girls shredded carrots once/day in the afternoons.  They (and I) loved this ritual and they always ran up to me, even from across the yard, when I stepped out of the house.

When I was gone this summer, Papa Bear was at work in the afternoons and the girls didn't receive treats so regularly.  I noticed after awhile that when I came home on the weekends, they no longer ran up to me anymore.  When the summer ended and the regular treats resumed, they again learned to anticipate my arrival every afternoon.  In fact, if I am late in doing this, I will find them on my front or back porches at the door, waiting for me.

Start Early

Set these patterns from an early age and be consistent.  I was able to start with my chickens as babies, just a day old. That way I could hug them and squeeze them and pet them and love them and call them George. 

{Without the squeezing}

I visited them several times a day in their brooder, always talking softly to them, and I tried to pick up several of them every day, to show them when I touch them I am not going to hurt them.

Naturally, some of them are friendlier than others, despite my interacting with all of them similarly.  But the longer I have them, the friendlier they have gotten, and in my flock, I can touch almost all of them even when they are not in the coop. 

These tips work on alpacas, too.  My neighbor remarked when I first got my boys, how disappointed her kids were that they could not approach them close enough to feed or touch them.  Now when they visit, they know they will be able to walk up to them and give them apples and pellets and the boys won't run away.

Just like people, animals need to know you are safe and not scary.  The more things you can do to show them that, consistently, the faster they will learn to trust, and approach, you.

What are your best tips for helping your critters trust you?  I'd love to hear!

Cluck cluck -
Gypsy Farmgirl, chicken whisperer

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

There may not be a lot of posting going on here at the Little Farm over the next few weeks.

We're packing up the house and garage{s} and barn and critters and moving everything into storage by Thanksgiving.

{Well the critters aren't going into storage, they're going to family & friends}

One would think that all of the activities at the Little Farm these days would include a lot of moving boxes and box tape.  However, Papa Bear was still working on the GMC last weekend, the Airstream travel trailer has electrical hookup now but needs new taillights, and the chicken coop hoop house needs winterizing insulation (in the form of large rolls of Foil-Bubble-Bubble-Foil, i.e., TekFoil).

Which means Mama Bear has been up to her eyeballs in boxes and packing tape without the assistance of Papa Bear. 


Well he's been assisting, just not with the boxes. 

Yes, I have been waking up at 3:15 in the morning panicking about all of the unfinished details. How did you know?

The pieces are coming together though, no matter how painfully slow it seems at times.  Last week I visited a farm near La Crosse where our boys will be staying this winter. And this morning the storage unit manager in the town nearest us called to say he had a couple of open units, which I snatched up immediately.

But, there is still a flock of 14 sweet hens to find temporary homes for.

And transporting those alpacas (we're thinking we might try the Airstream for that).

And a million boxes to fill.

So, wide awake at 3:15am, I remind myself to breathe, that it will all be OK, that everything will work itself out.

Then I snuggle back under my down comforter with a warm, purring kitty on my chest.

This, too, shall pass.
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