Blog Archive

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tiger Bronze hen wondering at the progress in the cheep shed

One of the final tasks we do each year on the Little Farm is ready her for winter.  The most unglamorous task involves mucking out the cheep shed and getting it prepped for the long winter ahead.

Mojo supervises Papa unloading woodchips

Ideally we'd have it mucked out in the late spring, as soon as the birds move out to pasture.

Woodchips are the foundation layer of our deep litter system

However, lately it seems there is always something living in it that prevents the mucking out until the last moments before we're moving the birds back in.

rabbits live happily "colony style" in the cheep shed in winter

Several loads of woodchips secured from sources near and far lay the foundation under the bedding that will become a "deep litter" system (click the link to read all about the health benefits of this system!).

Woodchip layer down!  Top with hay, manure, hay, manure...

The hanging black bucket is actually a poultry waterer. On the bottom are poultry nipples they can drink from, keeping their water super clean as they cannot stand on the edge of the dish or sit and poop in it, nor can dust or debris fall into the bucket.

Once the birds come in, they will of course poop all over the bedding.  So about every week (should be every week but sometimes these farmers are all "pooped out" and it goes a couple of weeks) we add another layer of hay, straw, pine needles or woodchips.

Tiger Bronze hen peeks outside of the cheep shed

A word of warning - being naturally frugal farmers, we always opt for free bedding sources over ones we have to purchase.  We do not raise any grain crops on this farm (yet), therefore we have no access to free straw bedding.

winter arrives at the Little Farm

We do have free access to woodchips, although we must haul them from quite a distance.  We also have access to leftover hay (whatever the ruminants don't eat).  So we use what we have at hand, hay and woodchips.

winter arrives at Litengård

If you use a lot of hay, you will have issues with the bedding becoming matted like a felted wool blanket.  Very hard to muck out at the end of the year, also not as absorbent as straw or woodchips. The more woodchips and straw you can incorporate, the better.

winter scene at Litengård

The birds have access to the outdoors all winter long, although the turkeys are far braver about facing the elements than the chickens are.

contemplating winter from the pop-hole door

Which just proves turkeys aren't chicken.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about readying the cheep shed

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Sweetgrass turkey at Litengård

For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison [to the bald eagle] a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on. ~ Benjamin Franklin

I never tire of watching our turkeys.  We raised 28 this year - 5 commercial broad-breasted whites and 23 heritage - a variety of breeds including Blue Slate, Jersey Buff, Tiger Bronze, Chocolate Pencilled Palm and the above pictured Sweetgrass.

these Jennys are "on the fence" about celebrating Thanksgiving

These intensely curious birds are endlessly fascinated by the buttons and rivets on my farm pants and even remember which pocket I keep my gardening gloves in.  Sneaking a glove out of my leg pocket is a favorite game, which always leads to a game of keep-away.

It is impossible to be sad in the turkey paddock, and I have often escaped from the stresses of my modern world with a visit to their primitive one.  They are by far the most beautiful and engaging birds on the farm.

Sweetgrass hen checks out the rabbit tractors

And although it saddened me greatly when we took 14 of our flock to the processor to grace the tables of several of our family and friends this year, my heart is gladdened by the thought that the turkeys upon those tables lived as good a life as any turkey could ever expect to live - safe from predators, with fresh clean air and sunshine every day, on green grass, chasing crickets and moths and my yellow gardening gloves across the paddock.

Sweetgrass turkey tail feathers

Today I will once again sit in the presence of my little flock, listening to their chirrups like overgrown tree frogs, and be grateful for all of the wonderful blessings in my life.

Oh, and my flock wanted me to share this joke with you:

Why did the turkeys cross the road?

Flock of turkeys at Litengård farm

To prove they weren't chicken!

Cheers -

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Jenny the Silkie-Ameraucana chicken who thinks she's a turkey

This is Jenny.  We hatched her out of a bantam blue egg laid by our bantam Ameraucana Jazzmine. Apparently her papa was Poppy the black Silkie.

So she has real chicken feathers like her mama (unlike Silkie feathers which are more like fluff) but black colored like her papa, extra toes like her papa, black skin like her papa, feathers on her feet like her papa, and lays bantam blue eggs like her mama.

She grew up with our Sweetgrass turkey flock and has only been with turkeys her entire life.

So we named her "Jenny," since a Jenny is a female turkey hen, and she thinks she's a turkey.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl writes about Jenny the Silkie-Ameraucana chicken

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dragon carrots harvested from the gardens at Litengård

My gardens since moving to the Little Farm have been perpetually behind.  Slow to get planted, slow to get weeded, slow to get harvested.

gorgeous colors inside and out on these Dragon carrots from Seed Savers Exchange

Despite this fact, I still seem to get a lot of things harvested out of it.

Like these gorgeous Dragon carrots, dug out on November 17.

Out of the mud.


Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl harvests Dragon carrots

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

close-up 5-day old New Zealand White rabbit
The kits that were born last Friday no longer look like tiny piglets - naked and wrinkled.

They've grown and filled out the wrinkles, along with sprouting a fine coat of white fur.

They now look almost rabbit-like.

5-day old New Zealand White bunny

If you are already familiar with our rabbit pens, which have slatted floors and are moved across the pasture twice/day, you're probably wondering, "How will they keep the babies in the pen?  Won't they fall through the slats?"

Well, in fact, yes, they would.  Once the babies start venturing outside the nest box we will indeed have to "baby proof" the pen.  To keep them from falling through.

cutie little bunny face
I had a mishap yesterday actually, when one of the sides came apart from the nest box and a baby wiggled out of the box and fell onto the grass below the pen. I found it and placed it back into the nest box.  It seems perfectly fine today.  And fixing the nest box is now our top priority this weekend. 

But for the next few days at least, Mama will still have unrestricted access to the pasture. 

And babies will remain in a pile, safely in the nest box.

5-day old New Zealand White rabbits

Cheers -

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

4-day old New Zealand White rabbits

I just can't get enough of these babies.

Would you look at those ears.

baby new zealand white bunny ears

Those noses!
baby New Zealand White rabbit

The whiskers!

sleepin' in a pile - baby New Zealand Whites

And toeses!

itty bitty baby bunnies

Cheers -
Dr. Seuss


Friday, October 4, 2013

Athena peeks out of her nestbox with a pink newborn bunny

Leave it to the rabbits to throw our day out of whack.

It was all so neatly scheduled. 

For the first breeding, Atlas our New Zealand White buck (male) bred Astarte on Tues. and Athena on Wed.  A week later we tested them both to see if the does "took" the first time. 

Astarte CLEARLY was not interested in a rebreed - hopping out of the rabbit tractor entirely in an effort to get away from Atlas.

Athena however was a little less convincing and in fact allowed Atlas to breed her, convincing me that her first "date" wasn't successful.

We started the countdown. 

27 days from the first breeding date Astarte's nest box would go into her mobile pen. 

On day 26, Astarte started nesting activity (pulling belly hair out to line the nest box).  I picked it up off the ground after I moved her pen and went to get her nest box.

(Their mobile pens have slats in the floor so they can graze pasture between the slats, and their pee/poo falls onto the pasture.  As does a pile of white belly fur.)

I also brought out some hay and put a handful along with her fur into the nest box. After munching on some hay, she jumped into the nest box to "decorate."

27 days from the second breeding date, Athena's next box would go in. She did not begin nesting on Day 26, or Day 27 or Day 28, 29 or 30.  So I assumed my calculations were correct and she would be due the following week.  But just to be safe, I put in an old nest box (which Papa Bear was going to replace over the weekend with a brand new one) on Day 30, along with some hay.

Then came day 31 post breeding #1.  Eager to see if Astarte would deliver, I checked inside the nest box during my morning rounds.  Nothing.

Later that day, just as I was wrapping up a work call, PB came into the office and said "I was going to swap out Athena's nest box for the new one but there are babies in her nest box."


He continued "Oh, and Astarted delivered, too.  Two sets of babies just born."

Oh. My. Goodness.

Needless to say we forgot about heading into La Crosse for the farmer's market that afternoon. We were busy counting heads (five in Athena's litter - her first - and seven eight in Astarte's litter - her second) and snapping photos.  

newborn new zealand white bunnies

Newborn bunnies look nothing like rabbits.  If you had showed me this picture and I had not known what the white fur was, I'd have assumed these were piglets.

Eventually we got all the evening chores done and we did go into town to celebrate our 11th anniversary.

Happy Anniversary Hunny. 

May we be as prosperous in life as our rabbits.

(But perhaps not quite as prolific).

Cheers -

Monday, September 30, 2013

Litengård welcomes three new Icelandic ewes!

At long last, the start of our permanent ewe flock has begun, the arrival three beautiful Icelandic ewe lambs from Whippoorwill Farm in Iron River, WI.

Until now I've only been dreaming of starting our own ewe flock and practicing sheep care with our Amish market lambs

Last year this entailed trimming hooves, treating hoof rot, trimming hooves, treating diarrhea, trimming hooves, treating pink eye, and trimming hooves.

This season we've had nary a problem with our ram lambs except that they are now getting a bit "rammy" and I have to watch my knees when I'm in their paddock.

{They weren't supposed to get rammy this year... they're all... well... wethers...}

Icelandic ewes of Litengård farm

Last winter once the sheep were all gone I spent a fair amount of time researching a variety of sheep breeds, trying to narrow down my "top 10" list to maybe just one or two breeds.

I soon realized most of my favorite breeds had some attributes in common - such as they all tended to be northern European "primitive" breeds, which are basically a breed, usually ancient, that has not been much "improved" by changing the breed to accommodate better meat or wool production. They remain more like they were thousands of years ago. They also all tended to be "landrace" breeds and they all tended to be "short-tailed."

The benefits of these attributes are many - they have survived for thousands of years, usually with minimal management interventions.  The ones that were prone to problems and parasites have died off or been culled.  They tend to be easy-birthers and great mothers.  Their natually short tails mean no tail docking is required, and because of this, ewes will not tend to prolapse (a problem in docked-tail sheep).

"Which way is home?"

In short, they tend to be hardy.  And let me tell you, after spending every weekend treating hoof rot and diarrhea last summer in our mixed-breed meat sheep, having something a little more "hands off" was enticing.

Not only that, but we live in the northern Midwest.  Winters, although seemingly more often peppered with milder days, still tend to be severe.

We don't have a lot of barn space. The critters that overwinter here must have minimal housing needs.  Our alpacas will lounge outside in temps far, far below zero as long as it's not raining.  The sheep must be similarly inclined.

So after deciding I really wanted a northern European, landrace short-tailed sheep, I first settled on the Norwegian Spelsau, but upon investigation discovered they've never been imported into the USA.


 However, there are some other closely related breeds that are currently in the USA.

Such as the Icelandic breed.  Not only do the Icelandics meet all of the above attributes, they do so with beautifully, naturally colored fleeces which are dual-coated and grow so fast it is necessary to shear them twice a year.

Their dual coat, consisting of an outer, longer, Tog, is around 27 microns and is fabulous for weaving and rug making and felting. 

The inner coat, the Thel, is shorter and finer, around 20 microns, perfect for making things for "next-to-skin" wear.

The beauty of all of this is that my new wool combs will separate these two coats so that I may use them for separate projects or leave them combined.  When spun together with a light twist a spinner can make a lofty "lopi" yarn.

{say it with me - Lofty Lopi Lofty Lopi Lofty Lopi...}

So the only question that remained was where to purchase our ewes.  After negotiating with a local farm for almost a year and having them back out on us twice, I noticed a posting on Facebook that my first choice farm had decided which ewe lambs they would have available for sale and were taking deposits.

Additionally, their farm was only 40 minutes from Washburn, where we were heading for a weekend of camping with our family.  It would be easy to pick the ewes up on our way home that weekend.

I thought we could just put them in the back of our Envoy but Papa Bear poo-poo'd that idea.  Something about our camping gear and twin-sized mattress taking up all the room.  So we borrowed an alpaca trailer and headed north.

I wish I had some pictures of Whippoorwill Farm.  Alas, I completely forgot my Canon Rebel at home that weekend. It was a lovely place, Scandinavian in style, with walking paths throughout the 15 wooded acres which served as laneways to move the sheep into sections of the woods where they did a darn good job of keeping the brush grazed.  The woods were dappled with sunshine and young tree trunks and grass, wide open and free of brush.

These sheep browse brush!  I no longer have to think about getting goats!

The girls were less than thrilled with being trailered, and even less thrilled about getting off the trailer in some strange field with alpacas and chickens milling nearby.  They wanted nothing to do with us, that's for sure. They hung closely to the fence nearest the Amish lambs for the first twenty-four hours.

But I've been working with them, enticing them with apple slices, and now Fönn, the white one, and Börk's daughter, the Moorit (brown one) will come up and look for treats.  Eva's daughter, the black one, wants nothing to do with me and wants to know when I am bringing her back to Whippoorwill.

"Whachu lookin' at, Willis?"

She'll come around.

Cheers -

Friday, August 30, 2013

Five Springs Basin, Bighorn Mountains, WY

Papa grew up at the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming, which means we frequently return to his stomping grounds to visit family and friends.

One of our favorite activities whenever we visit is to head up into the Bighorn Mountains for a day of driving scenic byways and hiking to beautiful spots.

One of the historic spots we like to visit is Medicine Wheel, a National Historic Landmark that is still being used today by Native Americans for their cultural and religious ceremonies.

Medicine Wheel, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

Taken from the Wyoming tourism website:

"The 75-foot diameter Medicine Wheel is a roughly circular alignment of rocks and associated cairns enclosing 28 radial rows of rock extending out from a central cairn. This feature is part of a much larger complex of interrelated archaeological sites and traditional use areas that express 7000 years of Native American adaptation to and use of the alpine landscape that surrounds Medicine Mountain." 

There is much I do not know about Native American culture and the Medicine Wheel, so suffice it to say I enjoy visiting this site to honor the history of the people who have used it and continue to use it as an important part of their cultural heritage.

The hike out to the wheel is not too steep, although I always have to stop along the way and catch my breath due to the elevation - 9642 feet above sea level, a bit of a jump from my normal habitat at 970 feet.

Thankfully there are several spots to stop and rest along the hike, all with breathtaking views of the Bighorns.

Papa stops to rest along the hike out to Medicine Wheel, Bighorn National Forest

Beautiful views on the way to Medicine Wheel

If you pay attention as you hike, you may spot an American pika, a small rodent found in the mountains of western North American in boulder fields above the treeline.

I learned when looking them up later that they partake in an interesting summer foraging activity referred to as 'haying," which literally involves gathering grasses, drying them on the rocks, then caching them in "haypiles" to be consumed throughout the winter (they do not hibernate).

American pika living among the boulders at Medicine Wheel, Bighorn National Forest

So in a way, you could think of them as little rodent farmers.


View of Bighorn Mountains from the road to Medicine Wheel

On the road to Medicine Wheel, Bighorn Mountains

Bighorn Mountains near Medicine Wheel

At last the wheel comes into view.

viewing the wheel from afar

Because this is an active culture site for Native Americans to this day, it is possible to arrive and find this area of the park is closed to the public for short periods of time, during ceremonies.

Approaching the Medicine Wheel, Bighorn Mountains, WY

We did have to wait just a bit before journeying out here today, but it was not an inconvenience. There are so many beautiful views to enjoy during the wait.

Prayer flags circle the perimeter of the wheel

One of the very first thing you notice is along the fence that circles the wheel, visitors have left color bits of cloth, prayer flags, all along the fence. They wave and flutter in the wind.

The circle itself is closed off except for ceremonies, but it is quite lovely to walk around the perimeter and marvel at the cairns which offer up a mystery:

"A 1972 investigation of the site by Astronomer John Eddy determined that various pairs of the cairns were used to determine/predict certain astronomical events, like the summer solstice. And the layout was very accurate for the time period between 1200 CE and 1700 CE."

Quote from here.

The walk back from the wheel is equally as lovely as the walk out to it, and always seems shorter, or perhaps my lungs just acclimate a tiny bit from having been outside on the top of a mountain for several hours.

Bighorn Mountains along the road to Medicine Wheel

Hungry from the walk and the altitude (or using that as an excuse to stop for a picnic), we pulled over at a campground (there are many of them all over in the Bighorns!) for a bite to eat. Note the lovely picnic basket - a gift from my mother-in-law {Thank you Jean!}.

Papa and the picnic basekt

Properly refreshed and rested, we decided to stretch our legs and test our glutes on another challenge - the trail to Bucking Mule Falls.

Papa climbs out for a view at Bucking Mule Falls, Bighorn Mountains, WY

Hang onto your hat there Papa Bear!

Papa at the top of Bucking Mule Falls, Bighorn Mountains, WY

Windy up here!

It's a very long way down!

Looking down into Devil's Canyon at Bucking Mule Falls, Bighorn Mountains, WY

A photo of me taking a photo of Papa (see me in his glasses?). I wonder, is this the path to Infinity?

Well nothing else to do now but head down the trail into Devil's Canyon.

Papa heads down the trail at Bucking Mule Falls, Bighorn Mountains, WY

first glimpse at Bucking Mule Falls, Bighorn Mountains, WY

Papa enjoys the view of Bucking Mule Falls, Bighorn Mountains, WY

It was at this point on our hike we noticed the rain moving in, and decided perhaps it best not to go all the way down to the floor of the canyon, but rather hike out before the rain reached us (and the camera!)

rain moving into Devil's Canyon, Bighorn Mountains, WY

You don't even have to leave the highways to get gorgeous views while driving in the Bighorns. There is plenty to see right from the vehicle.

Gorgeous views from the Bighorn Scenic Byway

We were even lucky enough on this trip to spot a moose!

Moose in the Bighorn Mountains, WY

moose grazing Bighorn Mountains, WY

All in all a delightful, if not a bit tiring, day in the Bighorn Mountains.

Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl explores the Bighorn Mountains, WY

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