Winter Homestead Dog Training

Winter Homestead Projects

How many different articles have you already ready with the name “Winter Homestead Projects”?  Maybe only I have read a lot because I’m fairly ambitious.  We haven’t lived in our country home even 4 months yet and its difficult to control the urges to start a hundred different projects.  My wife is able to suppress this a little more than I am.  Only a few weeks from Christmas I decided I was going to buy a wood furnace to install.  I was gently reminded that I am already stressed about all the projects I have going already and with all the presents we still had to buy for the kids.

Since I will get the evil eye (and well deserved) if I try to start a new project right now, I thought I would at least just list the things I’ve thought of doing and could possibly do during these long Wisconsin winter months.  After not finding great lists online from others of what to do during winter, I thought I would compile my own for those out there who have tons of free time for a new project.

Projects for the Winter

1.  Work on hunting training with my dog.  Or training in general.  He is a puppy who loves to bite the children and knock the baby over.  He needs help and I want to be able to use him for hunting.  Yep, that’s him you see with this post.

2. Learn how to hunt.  I have never shot an animal in my life.  Next year will be my time.  I may even try sooner if I could find an animal to shoot.  In the city, squirrels basically advertised themselves by  sitting on top a fence sticking their tongues out.  In the country they apparently know better and only leave their foot prints.

3.  Fix my chicken coop.  From the day I built my A-frame chicken tractor I have been modding it.  I have learned many of the ways not to build a chicken coop.  As I remedy the bad parts, I look towards the day where it is complete.  Someday after the hundreds of dollars spent trying to raise chickens, I might actually get an egg.

4.  Plan my goats.  Plan my pole barn.  Plan my garden.  Plan my yard.  There is a lot of room here.  I created a scale graph of my yard and can cut things out and play around with where I want to put things.  Unfortunately I can’t turn a long skinny 7 acres into more of a square.  I have lots of things I want to have on my land next year, including some meat goats.  I may need a fence and plan.

5.  Build or buy a bee hive.  Why not just jump into that right away next season too?  My wife likes the idea so that is another plus.  I’ve spent some time looking at designs and started wondering what bees did in the wild before people provide plastic pre-made combs for them.

6.  Work on my barbecue sauce.  Someday I am going to have meat all over the place ready to smoke.  Right now, I still pay the high grocery store prices for meat pumped full of grain and penicillin.  When the meat starts flowing, I don’t want to be without a wonderful sauce to accompany it.

7.  Install the wood furnace.  I’ve always hated the cost of heating my house.  Its even worse with propane.  The furnace is purchased to add onto the existing furnace in my house, now I just have to figure out how to install it.  Here’s to hoping the wife is nice and toasty and the propane man doesn’t know us on a first name basis.

8.  As far as perfecting things, my sourdough skills need some work.  I have attempted to hone my skills and build my knowledge previously without much success.  I blame the pool water that came out of the faucet which seemed to kill all the yeast.  Now I have water from the ground that should let things grow to their hearts content and make my teeth fall out.

9.  Build a wood shed.  That wood stove will need to be regularly stocked with fuel.  I want the shed close to my house because the point of the furnace is to stay warm on real cold days.

10.  Grow mushrooms in my basement?  Nah…I’m not ready for that.

11.  Build a grain mill.  I have yet to find plans for a simple grain mill that doesn’t involve a pretty painted windmill sitting on a creek.  I just want to figure out how to make wheat seed into flour.  No paint. No lattice blades.  I will even use electricity to spin a motor! I just heard a bunch of homesteaders gasp.

12.  Setup my workshop.  Since I moved only 4 months ago, the workshop is still a work in progress.  I don’t plan to get too crazy though as this will be moving to the pole barn next year.

13.  Remove all of the chicken, outhouse, bird feeder and 90’s pink decor from the house left by the previous home owner.  Don’t judge us by our bathroom decorations!

14.  Does anyone else buy tomatoes from the grocery store to practice canning?  Seems ridiculous but I just may do it.  I hate to wait until I have a load of tomatoes ready to go bad before I think about learning how its done.  I plan to practice canning this winter, in case you didn’t get that.

15. Buy a kitten.  This is killing two birds with one stone.  Actually, we hope it doesn’t kill any of our birds but lots of mice.  We are giving it to our kids for Christmas which is the second stone.  We need some pest control so we thought we would put a cat to work.  We will not be naming him Tom.

16.  My final suggestion is research.  If you are a farmer or have been on a homestead for awhile, you probably have already done all of the things on my list.  I am a computer programmer who has lived the last 30 years in the city.  I have a lot to learn.  I will be researching animals, plants, self sustaining life styles, alternative energies, and ways to be more self reliant.  It seems like fun stuff and I hope someone else can benefit as I learn too.

That is my list.  Those are the winter homestead projects which will keep me more than busy.  This is my first year in the country.  I bet that list will change drastically next year.

You Care Too Much What Others Think

A few days ago I found the answer to a question that is often difficult for a man to answer.   The question is how to tell if you care too much what others think about you.  I already know that I am someone who cares too much about this, but I wanted a way for other men to find out for themselves.

Does it matter if you care?  I would say most certainly.  Because I care too much, I miss out on fun, I miss out on opportunities.  I spend too much time contemplating things and not enough time doing them.  In reality, it is a very miserable thing to care too much about  what others think.  Caring too much keeps you from living as full of a life as you could otherwise live.

So, the question you are waiting for.  How to know.  This can actually be done with different groups of people to prove within those groups if you are a timid, bashful and anxious follower or if you are your own man.  What you do is take the group in question to an all you can eat buffet in which you particularly like the food.  If you don’t leave stuffed, then you care too much.  It’s that simple.

No man in the right mind should ever leave an all you can eat buffet still hungry.  Would you still be hungry if you had gone with your best friend?  Your wife?  By yourself?

No Right to Eat Meat

I love meat.  Call me old fashioned but I think animals are here for our consumption and use.  I think they are a gift.  However much I love to eat them though, I recently began thinking that I don’t have the right to eat them.  It’s not the animals though, its me.

Since moving to the country, I am starting to see a little bit about what it actually takes to put food on the shelf in a grocery store.  It isn’t so much the move that has heightened my observations though as much as my interest.  I am enjoying learning about raising animals, raising crops and trying to do it all in a way that would not cost more than just buying it off the shelf.  I haven’t come close to that yet though, in concept or in practice.  The chickens and ducks we bought in early September have cost a fortune so far in trying to prepare a good environment for them and protection from predators and Wisconsin weather.

The chickens and ducks, however, are also the reason that I don’t feel I have a right to eat meat.   These animals were purchased so that we could learn about caring for them, but also ultimately understand the process of raising to consumption.  We recently had a chicken that wasn’t handling the cold real well and it was my moment to attempt my first butchering.  No pun intended but I chickened out.  I knew what it would take to humanely end the life of the animal so that it could be processed, but I was just not ready.  I was just plain scared.

I realize how much I take for granted the food on the shelf in the store, especially the meat.  If I can’t bring myself to do what men have been doing for hundreds of years, a necessary step in order to have meat on the table, then do I really deserve to eat meat?

I tell myself to start with hunting.  A practice that hopes the animal is dead by the time you reach it.  I think this would be easier.  But in the end, raising farm animals for food is kind of pointless if you can’t get passed one of the single most important steps before eating them.  I am going to do it.  I will tell you all about my experience when I do.  Wish me luck.

 

Farm Tough

Not Farm Tough

Some people get ATVs. Some people get big TV’s. My new toy is not any of those. My new toy is able to enrich my life probably more than most things I could buy. My new toy is a big yard.  It is my training ground to become farm tough.

I am still discovering the ways to use this new yard. Only about half of the 7 acres are maintained as far as landscape. The other half is a rented out farm field. For now, that is OK with me because I cannot keep up with all of the tasks to maintain about 3 acres of landscaped area. We moved in at the end of August and aside from the other moving tasks, after the first month we are still trying our best to get the yard in the state we want it in before winter. This has been an extraordinary task. We are building fences, killing weeds, removing dead plants, transplanting some plants from our old yard and on top of that spending 5 hours a week just mowing the lawn.

Also, we have gone from 0 pets to 1 puppy, 9 chickens and 3 ducks within the first two weeks in our new house.  Over a month later they are all still alive!  The cold came in  quicker than expected leaving us scrambling to build a coop that would protect them.  The chickens became more of a burden then expected and in hindsight it would have been much better to wait on them.  But this is why we moved in.  We wanted to experience new things.  We wanted to do things we couldn’t in the city.  That started with chickens.

I can’t remember how many days since we moved I have been physically exhausted at the end of the day. I think it was most of them though throughout the first month. I am not farm tough.  I am not even close.  But the good feeling that accompanies the soreness is greatly welcomed for someone who is a computer programmer by day.

Still Not Farm Tough

I realized how weak I am last weekend while assembling my kids swing set.  I put the big heavy playhouse top on while it was laying down so I wouldn’t have to lift it up.  This way, I just had to stand up the whole thing.  It was heavier then I thought. My wife and I could barely budge it.  Using a jack, a truck and some ratchet straps I thought I could outsmart it so I start rigging up a system to raise it with the jack and support it with ratchet straps on the truck.  Of course this is the embarrassing moment with the farmer neighbor comes by and and sees that I need some help.  I get a grip on the swing set along with him and his son.  I don’t think I even helped them.  That thing was up in place so quickly it may have even pulled me with it.  They are farm tough.

I hope to be there some day but not now.  I lack skills to keep animals.  To grow food.  I lack the strength to do many jobs.  I may have a brain but the smart way is often the way that takes the most time.  Farm tough saves a lot of time.  I am working on it.

 

 

Dogs vs Ducklings

If it were a cage match between dogs vs ducklings, I think we would know who would win.  For my family though, it didn’t quite work that way.  Are you here wondering how to make your children (specifically speaking about elementary school aged girls) really happy?  Are you currently trying to decide between a chocolate lab puppy or chicks and ducklings?  I can tell you from experience which one wins.

My children were very excited about getting a dog.  It was one of the new possibilities we offered when we were moving to a new house.  They were so excited, one of them even bought a plastic animal one day from Fleet Farm just to feel closer to having a pet.  Then, we got the dog and they pretty much ignore him after a few days.  This is after saying the most exciting part about moving was that they could get a dog.

However…the chicks and ducklings which they wanted but my wife and I surprised them with don’t look like they are in for becoming old news anytime soon.

So who wins in the battle of dog vs ducklings? Do you have daughters in elementary school?  Skip the dog and buy them some chicks and ducklings!

Slow Down, Jack!

Who Has Time to Slow Down?

I don’t know many people anymore who really know the difference between the speed of light and the speed of life.  Did you ever feel like everyone else in the world sets the pace by which you live life? Have you ever tried to take control?  Did it work?  Am I slowing you down too much with all these questions?

This would be a prime moment to tell you to picture yourself on your death bed.  That only leads me to another question though.  Why is it that no one seems to find that activity to be creepy?  Am I supposed to picture myself soothed and melancholy at the end of a long life where I am somehow know I am just about to pass from old age?   I don’t think that is the typical person’s end of life scenario but I will refrain from being too morbid.

Anyway.  I don’t think end of life, death bed scenarios are necessary to consider the thought.  Simply looking at your life so far…do you wish you would have gotten to where you are currently at in life any faster?  Have the days that it has taken to get to where you are right now been inconveniently slow?  You may have had some pretty rough days that you wish could have gone a lot faster.  We all have had days and times like that.  That’s not really what I am talking about though.

What I imagine is that  none of us would have traded our best days to simply get where we are now any faster.   So why trade our future best days to get anywhere we may be someday any faster?  Are you living life like you are on a ride or like you are simply headed to a destination.  More appropriately are others allowing you to enjoy the ride or are they simply pushing you to a destination.  By others, that could mean society in general.

There are all kinds of influences that say you need to climb the ladder, reach a goal, accomplish something and make progress.  Too seldom do we question why we are throwing away our own days for those “needs”.

Take Control

At the end of the day, I want to focus on what’s still left of the day.  Not for what more I can accomplish but for enjoying the time I still have.  That’s not really possible unless I choose to slow down.  There are a lot of forces that try to drive my time in a certain direction.  It’s my choice to let them or not.  Of course, I need to work.  I need to take care of things around the house.  I need to put effort into friendships.  I don’t however have to climb the ladder.  I don’t have to have a perfectly maintained house, car and yard.  I don’t have to have more friendships than I can handle.  I don’t have to own things that take too much of my time.  I don’t have to compete for a raise if I already make enough.

It’s all up to you, really.  You may think others are to blame for the speed of your life but it’s really in your hands.  While it is easy and fun to entertain urges to get somewhere specific in life, it is fulfilling to focus on what is happening right now.  So, slow down, Jack!

Men Who Hunt and Gather

I am guessing that in today’s world, most people would say that men hunt and gather when they go to their job and earn income for their families.  It’s basically the same thing, right?  The point is to put food on the table and maybe have some extra that can be traded for other items that are needed in the household.  So men hunt and gather when they consistently show up for work, right?  They get the same amount of satisfaction from a paycheck that can be used to buy food at a grocery store, right?

I really don’t think so.  I think men get much more satisfaction out of actually bringing the food from the wild and setting it before their wife and kids, regardless of how they turn up their noses.  I am currently working towards hunting my first animal ever that will be food on the table.   I am very intrigued by the timeless process which I have never really taken part in.  I have caught fish and ate them, but hunting seems to be a next level for me.  I can tell you that the thoughts and excitement I have about hunting an animal seems to come from something natural inside.

Think about the movie City Slickers for a moment.  That movie makes a lot of men think about how cool it would be to get out into the wild and do “man” things.  That’s because we have the desire to do things like get dirty, kill our food and enjoy the adventures provided us in nature.  Why can’t we be cowboys?  Dressing up in business casual and sitting at a desk all day is nothing like we are wired to love.  Maybe some are.  It is likely they still make secret plans of living off the land in between emails and presentations.

Come on guys…face it.  You know you have thought about getting some land and living off of it.  You wondered what it would be like to feel the satisfaction from that.  You even take vacation from the office or factory job to go out and hunt your own food.  Don’t try to tell me that its just a sport and you wouldn’t want to do it more.

If you’ve never had the desire to hunt or fish, than I have to wonder what happened to you along the way.  I am not avid in any way.  I don’t fish much.  I’ve still never hunted.  But I am often intrigued.  And I am endlessly wishing I could just provide for my family within the bounds of the land that I own.

Do Chickens Even Care if They Are Free Range?

More on this later… I am expecting the answer to be no but I am currently unqualified to answer this question. In 5 days however my family is moving to a country home and we plan to learn how to raise chickens. If I can get passed the keeping them alive part then I will make sure to use any chicken whispering skills I gain to see if in fact they prefer to be free range or not.

In case the result is that I still don’t know, I well judge based on a chicken happiness scale that I will begin compiling. Please leave your questions for the chickens in the comments and I will be sure to ask.

How to Use an Acre

Trading Rules for Acres

One acre is equal to 43,560 sq feet.  The average lot size in the US is less than 9,000 square feet which is lower than it was 40 years ago.

My family is about to move and we have highly anticipated what to do with the flexibility of our new home. We aren’t gaining more square feet. We aren’t gaining proximity to anything new. We won’t be able to walk to a coffee shop or a park. What we will be able to step outside to a blank canvas of 7 acres. Maybe its just me, but there just seems to be so much potential when you have this kind of space. The question, however, is what can one do with an acre? Our ambitions are high but will we really do anything we think we will? Will the 7 acres really change life at all? Here’s the list of some things that we think we will be able to do differently once we move.

1. Spread out. Our yuppie yard is about as small as they can come. We made the best of it but can’t wait to have a yard that could be called an expanse.

2. Play. We can get a dog. We can hit a baseball…as hard as we want. Racing around the yard would actually wear us out. We see tree forts, worn in tracks for biking, tire swings, and off road vehicles.

3. Grow. Our little yard in the city can barely pump out a few cherry tomatoes. The rhubarb did ok and we got 8 grapes (not clusters) the first year. We can’t wait for the things we can grow in our new yard. Of course there’s the chance that our problems growing were never a result of anything but lack of skill. Time to hone that skill!

4. Host. We can’t wait to have people come and enjoy the space with us. From big fireworks to burn piles, space allows for some new options in the social front.

5. Build. I’m not looking for a trash heap but hopefully there can be some projects in the yard. I don’t have to pass up a pile of free barn wood that I could use for some projects because I will finally have some space to store it.

6. Hunt. I’ve never hunted an animal in my life. I’m going to though. I believe there is something we really miss out on in the circle of life when we fail to ever attempt “harvesting” our own food.

Overall, I think life is less about circumstances and what you make out of them. It doesn’t take a big yard to really do any of these things, but it does make it easier. These are the kinds of things we want as major parts of our lives instead of minor. These are the kinds of things that will bring out what is naturally in each of us. Mankind isn’t supposed to live in a stuffy neighborhood with controlling forces saying what they can and can’t do with their space. Those who do have forgotten about the way nature was given to us as a gift for us to extract from and take care of.

While others choose to stay in crowded neighborhoods that say you must have windows on your garage doors, you can’t dry your clothes outside and you cannot keep the animals that were given to us as life sustainers, I will be enjoying playing guitar on my back porch with a rifle by my side waiting for supper to walk across my yard.

smoked-chicken-ready

A Successful Attempt at Smoking on the Grill

 

I have to admit a downfall in my own manliness.  I cannot smoke ribs.  I just don’t seem to know what I’m doing or as I read all kinds of suggestions I am smoked-chicken-readymaybe just following the worst ones.  Smoking ribs is an ability that any man should have.  Well, if you don’t eat meat then maybe it’s not for you.  I’m sure you could smoke vegetables and they would probably be some of the best vegetables you’ve ever had.

I haven’t wanted to give up on smoking meat though so I have a attempted a few times.  Last year for my birthday, that is what I wanted to do.  I didn’t want to go anywhere but simply stay home and get to try smoking something.  Again, I was dissappointed.  Temperature doesn’t seem to be my issue although I find myself fluctuating +/- about 50 degrees from my goal.  I can create smoke, that isn’t the issue.  For pork, it has always just come down to the tenderness that I wasn’t happy with.

But, there is hope.  I have found a process and recipe that has worked amazing for me.  It has renewed my hope in my ability to learn more about grilling.  I have to give full props to Kevin Haberberger for this one.  It wasn’t pork.  It wasn’t beef.  But it was good and looked beautiful too.  Check out Kevin’s article about smoking a whole chicken at http://www.extraordinarybbq.com/smoked-whole-chicken/.  I was skeptical that mine would come out as well as he made it sound but it really did.

smoked-chicken-on-grillMy wife loved it and said it was the most tender chicken she has ever had.  It lacked a little in smoke flavor because I didn’t keep my chip box well supplied during the process but that is easy to fix.  I also didn’t have lemons in the house so I used lemon juice.  The bird turned a beautiful brown that I never expected, tasted great and just fell apart when trying to serve it.  I am excited to smoked-chicken-dinnermake it again and maybe just add a little more smoke to the picture.  My wife is having visions of turkeys and Thanksgiving.  We will have to wait and see about that…