Saturday, November 29, 2014

Amil's Inn B&B, Wilton, WI

"What do you want for your birthday?" I asked Papa over and over in the months leading up to his turn-of-the-decade celebration.

Finally I got an answer - "I want to sit somewhere quiet and read a book."

Relaxing at Amil's Inn B&B

Arrangements were made for our daughter and a friend to come to the farm for a visit and they graciously agreed to do morning farm chores so that we could stay each night at a local B&B.

I didn't even have to think twice about where I wanted to stay.

Decorated for the holidays at Amil's Inn B&B, Wilton, WI

It was a warm summer day the day I walked into the laundromat in a small town down the road (our town is so small it does not even have a laundromat!).

To my great surprise the door was opened even before I arrived with my arms full of laundry.  A pleasant grandmotherly woman greeted me warmly and ushered me inside.

Entryway at Amil's Inn B&B, Wilton, WI

After loading my machines, I sat down near her.  She seemed eager to talk.

For the next 45 minutes she told me about her life growing up on a farm, about all the chickens she raised and the eggs she sold, about her wonderful daughter who runs the B&B just out of town, Amil's Inn B&B.

celebrating a big birthday at a little inn

I knew of the inn, I had driven past it on countless occasions on my trips back and forth to the Big Farm during the summer of 2011.

I had admired it's many, large gardens and ached to sit on the front porch with the quilts hanging over the rails.

relaxing in the sitting room at Amil's B&B

She told me I would soon meet her daughter who was coming to pick her and their laundry up, and not too long after I was introduced to the innkeeper, Anita.

It was like meeting an old friend I had known forever.

Relaxing in the sitting room at Amil's Inn B&B

Anita immediately invited me over to take a tour of the inn, and I jumped at the chance.

The inn was delightful, the rooms decorated in a country-style I wished I had the talents to emulate.

Country-style decor at Amil's Inn B&B

We parted as new friends and promised to keep in touch.

Since that time we have had tea parties at my farm under the pear tree, laughing as the young chickens raced back and forth from the rose bush to us to beg for treats.

country-style decor at Amil's Inn B&B

I have toured their gorgeous gardens, eaten their scrumptious veggies and sat on their front porch with the quilts.

We have celebrated my birthday and New Year's Eve together.  I have put my folks up for a stay here.

Christmas is coming at Amil's Inn B&B

And now we would celebrate Papa's birthday.

We were put in the room, In The Beginning. a lovely room with windows facing south and west, with lots of natural light, my favorite!

Guest room "In The Beginning" at Amil's Inn B&B

Despite our familiarity with the innkeepers, we were still given the grand welcome tour and were settled in in no time.

It was truly one of the most relaxed we have felt in a very long time, as keeping up with the pace of things on a farm is typically anything but relaxing.

Guest room "In The Beginning" at Amil's Inn B&B

For two nights we slept like babies on Comphy Sheets, the most luxurious sheets I have ever had the pleasure of sleeping on, and dined like kings at breakfast (all homemade, often with local ingredients!).

After a leisurely breakfast, we would meander home (only 10 minutes away) and find all the morning chores done, with plenty of time to hang out with our daughter and friend.

Relaxing at Amil's Inn B&B

On one of the days we picked up the kids and went over to O'Gara's Christmas Tree Farm and picked out our Christmas tree, then spent the afternoon and evening trimming it.

The entire weekend was just lovely, all of it.

So I will say, if you ever find yourself needing lodging between La Crosse and Madison and are looking for a restful night's stay, wonderful food, and great company, I recommend you stop for a night (or three) at Amil's Inn B&B.

thank you for staying at Amil's Inn B&B

You'll be happy you did.  Tell Anita that Gypsy Farmgirl sent you!

Cheers -

Gypsy Farmgirl enjoys at stay at Amil's Inn B&B

Christmas trees ready for  new homes

It's been 6 years since we've had a Christmas tree in the house.

Why, are we Grinches or something?  Don't celebrate Christmas?

Well, no on both counts.

It's been more of a logistical issue.  We often travel for the holidays, and I don't like the thought of a live tree dying in the house while we're gone.  Fire hazard and all that.

And the cats.  Lots of cats to climb up or tear down the tree.

So we've just avoided it altogether.

But this year I wanted a tree.  And I wanted a tree that we got to choose and cut.

So when C-baby and her friend visited the weekend after Thanksgiving, I thought, "This is my chance!"

Friends recommended a local tree farm that was just over the ridge from us, and soon we were piled in the XUV and on our way.

cut your own Christmas trees!

After picking up the requisite equipment - namely a tarp for dragging the tree and a bow saw for cutting, we began our trek up the hill.

ready to go get our tree!

fun times at O'Gara's Christmas tree farm

The trees were planted in sections by type.

on the hunt for the perfect tree

We passed by all the short-needled spruce varieties.  We always had short-needled spruces when I was growing up.

They make lovely trees with lots of space for ornaments, but I wanted something different, something bushier, something a little longer-needled.

beautiful long-needled pine trees at O'Gara's tree farm

And then we spotted her down the aisle of Scotch Pines.

our beautiful Scotch Pine Christmas tree

She was perfect.  Symmetrical in shape, full and bushy.  C-baby and I agreed immediately, we had to have her.

But Papa Bear wanted to keep looking.  We hadn't reached the top of the hill yet.

We debated leaving someone beside her just to keep the other shoppers away until we returned (as we knew we would).

But in the end we trudged up to the top of the hill only to find more short-needled pines.

An attempt was made to use the tarp to slide back down the hill, albeit unsuccessfully.

sliding down the hill at O'Gara's Tree Farm

When we returned to the Scotch Pine row, she was still there.


C-baby gazes in awe at our perfect tree

pointing out the perfect tree

readying the tarp in preparation for cutting our own Christmas tree

And so the cutting began.

logistics of tree cutting decided

hard to reach the trunk through all the bushyness

smilin' c-baby

help me, I've fallen and can't get up...

perfect little Scotch Pine!

haulin' tree

There were gadgets at this tree farm that I have never seen before, like this one, which shakes the tree vigorously to dislodge snow and loose needles and such.

shake it like a... Christmas tree?

shake shake shake....

And this one, which reminded me of something the Grinch might use to stuff and steal Christmas trees from the Who village.

stuff the tree and up you go!


Wrap up a C-baby for Christmas!

tying one on for Christmas

which end is up again?

As Papa tethered the tree to the truck, we wandered around looking at things.

Christmas 'coutrements

And breathing deeply.

breathe deeply

Need a hand, Papa?

loading up the tree

just helpin'!

Even the drive home was lovely, with white snow and red barns peeking out here and there.

winter wonderland

Stay tuned for trimming the tree!

Holiday Cheers -
Gypsy Farmgirl finds the perfect Christmas tree

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

baby Blue Slate turkey poult

I'm wild about turkeys.

And I'm wild about wild turkeys.

I'm not so wild about wild turkey, however.  Although they have a nice picture on their label.

wild turkeys at the Little Farm

Last year we watched (from afar, wild turkeys have dang good eyesight and hearing) a family of turkeys that would often cross our hay fields grazing for insects.  We watched the babies get bigger and bigger all season.

I wondered what happened to all of them over the winter, but this spring we began seeing them on our fields again.

{Happy dance!}

the tom struts, the hens ignore

Despite rumors to the contrary, perhaps instigated by their broad-breasted domestic cousins we've engineered to suit our Thanksgiving plates, turkeys are not stupid.  In fact, they are one of the smartest wild birds in North America.

I have been raising turkeys - both heritage and commercial breeds - for three years now, and I don't think any turkeys are stupid - commercial, heritage or wild.

Perhaps turkeys in general get their bad reputation from the fact that domestic turkeys are raised mostly in confinement operations with tens of thousands of turkeys to a pole building, where they do not get to express many of their natural turkey tendencies.

{The turkeyness of the turkey, to paraphrase Joel Salatin}

young slate turkeys explore the yard

A bird raised completely indoors, without any parents or older flock mates around to teach them anything, probably does have an intellectual disadvantage compared to those raised in more natural settings.

My turkeys, raised on pasture from the time they come out of the brooders, are very smart indeed.  Even the domestic Broad-Breasted Whites that I raised last year did exceedingly well on our pastures.

Turkeys will not stand outside in the rain, look up and drown.  Not even the Broad-Breasted Whites. Nor will they choose to stay out in the rain if they have a shelter to go into.

Turkeys are incredibly social.  Mine are even more social and playful than my chickens.  They remember which leg pocket I keep my gardening gloves in, and like to play games of "keep away" after snatching them out of my pocket and taking off across the paddock.

blue slate turkey on my head

I had a couple Blue Slate turkey hens that even liked to sit on my head or take naps in my lap.  They all readily take food treats out of my hands.

Turkeys are calmer as youngsters and show far less flightiness than chickens when I put my hands into the brooder, although they are more cautious than chicks when it come to exploring new items in their environment like treats they have not seen before.

Turkeys are seasonal breeders and egg layers which means they do not lay eggs year-round like chickens, probably because they have been raised more for meat production than egg production.  Laying chicken hens have been raised for generations to lay more and more eggs.

A tom turkey will not just jump on a hen like a rooster will with a chicken.  He does a lot of strutting, and when the hen is ready, she sits down.  He walks up and down her back for awhile, which helps get her ready.  Finally, she lifts her tail, he maneuvers his around hers, and they touch cloacas (called a "cloacal kiss").  It is a rather remarkable feat, if you ever get the chance to see it (there's a lot of it around this farm in the spring!).

Amazingly, a turkey hen can hold sperm from one mating up to a month, releasing a little bit with each egg.  Talk about preserving the harvest!

turkey poult hatching

A turkey egg takes 28 days to hatch.  Except mine usually start hatching on day 25 for some reason.  Chicken eggs usually take only 21 days to hatch.

A turkey baby is called a "poult," not a chick.  They are hatched with downy fuzz just like a chicken.  Poults, like chicks, have an egg tooth that they use to break out of their shell.  The egg tooth falls off soon after they hatch.

When hatching, first they "pip" a hole near the large end of the egg, then they "zip" a line of holes around the end of the egg.  Finally, they push the egg shell pieces apart.  This process can take 24 hours or longer.

{Pipping and zipping pics can be found here}

A turkey poult has a completely different vocabulary of peeps and trills than a chicken.  I was instantly captivated the first time I heard a poult peeping. I still am, every time.

{crazy turkey lady}

peep, Peep, PEEP! goes the turkey poult

It starts low and quiet, then escalates as it rises - peep, PeeP, PEEP!

My little poults like to pretend someone is in trouble or has flown out of the brooder by peeping loudly, non-stop until someone goes down to check on them.

As soon as you step into their room, they are instantly quiet.  Nothing amiss.

shhhh... mama's here!

I suspect as soon as you leave the room, they all start peep-giggling at you for falling for their trick.


Despite not being raised around their mothers (we've tried unsuccessfully to let some of our broody turkey hens hatch their own eggs and will keep on trying until we have successful hatches), our poults have shown a surprising number of instinctual behaviors like dust bathing at four days old, strutting (despite not having any tail feathers yet) at a week old, and trying to fly by running fast and flapping wildly from nearly the day they are hatched.

even baby turkeys strut their stuff!

They can fly out of their brooders by 2 weeks of age, which necessitates adding a screen cover to avoid having to go rescue them all day and night.

If ever we hook up a camera in the barn, I will watch the "turkey channel" all day long.  In the meantime, I will have to visit the brooder, the barn and the paddock to watch my little poults grow up into the beautiful birds that will grace many local Thanksgiving tables.

"How can you send your birds to market?" I often get asked.

Indeed, the day after the turkeys go to market is one of the saddest days on our farm.  The paddock seems empty and lifeless after the chatter and commotion of turkeys all summer long.

Sweetgrass flock at LitengÄrd - Little Farm

But the answer is simple - for every bird we raise and sell, one less turkey is purchased from Costco or Malwart - and one less turkey spent its entire life in a pole building, suffocating from ammonia and trampled by its thousands of companions.

By raising meat animals to sell to conscientious consumers, we reduce the amount of animal suffering.  And that, for me, is worth the pain of losing my beloved birds every fall.

Happy Thanksgiving -
Gypsy Farmgirl loves turkeys

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