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Gold Rush Homesteader

Evening Mist in the Garden

Sarah CuthillIt had been raining all day, but when the drops let up around the time for evening chores, I decided to get all my outside time in at once. After feeding the animals and refilling the fodder trays, I sauntered down to the garden making my way –in my boots instead of sandals for a change– down the muddy and eroded slope. 

There is something almost magical feeling about a cloudy, misty evening. The air smelled moist and I could feel the electrical charge of the garden and its leafy inhabitants. I surveyed which bare spots needed attention and set to work. Quite a few tomato plants I had started from seed were becoming well established and needed to be thinned and replanted into individual squares. When the dirt is dry, the natural granite dust and sand present in the soil cuts up and dries out my hands. But tonight the dirt was moist. Moist, dark, fluffy, and absolutely divine. 

Nothing will make you a believer in something bigger than you like working in the soil. Dirt is my religion. 

I carefully dug up the seedlings that were grouped together and gently teased their roots apart. Once they were free from each other, I replanted the seedlings singly this time. Part of the magic of gardening is hoping for the best yet not knowing the outcome. We can always expect that a seedling will live if given the right conditions, but we don’t really know until the day we harvest that beautiful tomato, or cabbage, or pepper. Experiment and wishful thinking are all an integral part of the experience. Smelling the rain in the air. Hands in the soil. Dirt under your nails. Tiny, living plants in your care. Wet garden paths. Evening mist. 

How To Keep Rabbits Cool in the Summer

Sarah Cuthill

Rabbits are no easy customer and anyone who tells you that rabbits are "easy" pets, are quite mistaken. I always tell people that just about anything will kill a rabbit. And it's true, especially on a hot summer day. But with a little know how, you can keep your outdoor rabbits alive and well through the summer heat. If I can keep my wool producing angoras moderately cool in 100*F weather, so can you. 

I have a few simple tricks on keeping your rabbits cool in temperatures over 80*F degrees: 

 • Always keep your rabbits in a shady area away from direct sunlight! 
 • If your rabbits have a long coat or wool, shear their coats down to 1/4" inch or less in length using scissors or electric clippers. 
 • Provide each rabbit with a frozen bottle of water to lean up against during the hottest part of the day. If necessary, exchange thawed bottles for freshly frozen bottles during the day. 
 • Turn on an oscillating (rotating) fan near your cages or hutches. Keep that air moving! 
 • Periodically hose down the dirt or floor around the rabbits to encourage cool air through evaporation. 
 • Be sure your rabbit's drinking water is cool. Consider dumping out old water and refilling their water bottles or automatic water system with fresh, cool water in the morning and evening. 
 • Provide rabbits with a dish of ice cubes. 
 • If your rabbits look especially uncomfortable, rub an ice cube along their ears to help cool them down. 
 • With the exception of wooled breeds, set up a misting fan system for your rabbits. 

Handling Negative Criticism Online

Sarah CuthillHandling criticism online is easier said than done, right?! The internet has surely made many aspects of life easier and some a little harder. With so many blogs out there, it's easy to forget that these are real people writing out their real feelings and in many cases, feelings get hurt. I think it has something to do with the age old saying, "out of sight, out of mind". 

I have only had my own farm blog up and running for two years now, but have certainly met my fair share of online criticism and general 'hate-mail'. I have always run my own blog with the upmost priority being on showing what daily life is like on a learning, growing backyard farm. For the most part, readers really enjoy my honesty. But there always seems to be someone in the crowd that feels the need to prove my farming methods, life choices, and downright being to be wrong. This is by far the hardest part about being online. I know that I'm not wrong. I know that there are many different paths to the same destination. But after a few vicious and demeaning emails and blog comments, it gets to me. Big time.

With my own blog most of the hateful comments I receive are about how I raise my animals. I get a lot of flack since I have made it clear that I raise rabbits, quail, and chickens for meat. Oh, how dare I have the desire to raise healthy meat for my family. How dare I care for and love these animals and then humanely dispatch them. I pride myself in how clean and well taken care of my animals are and how they are handled and held dear to us until the day they are processed. But even so, I have gotten various hate-mail and blog comments that state everything from: 'what a horrible rabbit breeder I am' to 'how could I live with myself for keeping wool rabbits in tiny cages' to 'how I am starving my animals by having them on a natural diet'. I have heard it all and it still hurts when I see those comments and emails in my inbox. I try not to be too sensitive, but usually these attacks feel personal.

One thing I always do is to try to keep in mind that this person doesn't know me and, therefore, cannot possibly make these assessments well. People who leave hateful messages are usually people who are insecure about themselves and it has nothing to do with me. Sometimes I think it may even be jealousy. For some reason they have no other outlet in which to get their rage and frustration out on other than Facebook, Twitter, email, or other social media. That's the age we live in now. Any random person can hate you and disapprove of you. Not just your friends... haha!

It is always helpful to have a support system to reassure you when those emails or comments do get in your head. A good friend, a spouse, or even online fans and readers will often give you that extra little boost you need to get over negativity from others. Sometimes it can help to write out a statement of intent --even if you have no intention of publishing it. Why are you blogging? Why are you writing? Is it for yourself or for others? Think about who you are writing for. If you are writing for yourself, then consider making your blog private or switch your comments 'moderated'. If you are writing to share with others of like-mind, these online Negative Nancys are obviously not your targeted crowd. 

No matter what your situation is, you should let most of the unhelpful criticism you receive roll right off your shoulders. Delete and block! No one deserves to hear that they are stupid or cruel or ignorant and especially not from anonymous internet-haters. Don't burden yourself with the hate of others. You are awesome!

A City Girl's Experience Raising Meat

Sarah CuthillHome-raised meat invokes quite a strange image in many people’s minds and I wasn’t any exception until recently. Now twenty-six, I grew up in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area very close to Oakland, California. Until I was sixteen, I lived in a city environment where grocery stores, corner markets, big box stores, and malls were completely acceptable places to buy food. They still are I suppose. But once I started developing my very own backyard farm two years ago, I realized how unnatural those little styrofoam packages of meat were.

After I had an emergency procedure done to remove my gallbladder, I found that there were a lot of foods I could no longer eat. Most of them being fast-food, processed foods, and commercial meats. Obviously there was something seriously wrong with this food if my body was literally rejecting it. I read up on some of the nasty ingredients and processes that our meat is put through and came to the conclusion that I did not want myself, or my family, eating this disgusting “food” any longer. Luckily, I already had a handful of chickens and a garden going, but this was the real tipping point for this city girl to start raising meat animals.

It certainly is a scary idea --for those of us who did not grow up around farm life-- to start raising animals for the sole purpose of butchering and eating them. At first it seemed almost wrong. Why am I caring for and watching this animal grow if my only plan for it’s future is to stick it in a crock pot with some potatoes? It feels morbid at best. I would like to say that that feeling has dissipated for me, but I still combat my personal demons when raising animals for the freezer.

Hopefully my own apprehensions don’t discourage anyone from raising meat animals, because that is certainly not my intention. It is just good to keep in mind that the feeling of guilt is normal and I’m sure everyone who raises meat animals has felt it at one point or another. I am currently raising meat rabbits so that little thing I like to call the “Easter Bunny Syndrome” is a big factor. For me anyway, it is a lot harder to butcher a cutesy, fluffy bunny than a squawky chicken. Meat guilt still gets me every time, but which is worse? Butchering your own meat animals or buying mystery meat with chemical additives? That, I suppose, is the real question. I came to the realization that many people do at this point; I would rather raise my own meat and know what that animal ate and how it lived than eat another frozen turkey burger from the grocery store.

I have been raising French angora rabbits for both wool production and now meat for a little over two years now. I have been butchering my own rabbits for meat for about seven months now and I will say that my whole perspective on home-raised meat has changed. There is no way I will ever go back.

Now I appreciate every bite of meat I eat and now I prepare meals with a lot more care and thought. Nothing is wasted and in the back of my head I thank the animal on my table for it’s sacrifice so that my family can eat and prosper. Sure, it’s heartbreaking to “do the deed”, but I know that the meat on my table was raised in a healthy environment, it ate GMO-free feed, it was loved and cared for right up until the moment is was humanely killed. And the best part is that I can now feel confident in that thought. The meat I eat is no longer from mysterious origins. If I am going to be a responsible meat-eater, I am going to do it like this.