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Finding Our Way in the Lost Pines of Texas

Roosters Do What Roosters Do

LydiaHave you ever been faced with too much of a good thing? Last year we purchased two Buff Orpington roosters for our 45 hens (or maybe it was the other way around). Anyway, these two brothers whom we named Howard-the-Coward (because he always ran away and gave up the hen to his brother) and HOCO’s Brother did an outstanding job protecting the hens and fertilizing eggs for incubation.


The first hatch resulted in five more roosters and 10 hens. Within six months, we had five feuding siblings and everyone’s feathers were ruffled. The poor hens were running for their lives trying to get away from them, even taking refuge in my lap when we sat out to watch them in the evening. If they weren’t chasing hens, they were fighting each other.

We initially thought some of them would be as gentle as HOCO and his brother, but that was not the case. After separating them into two different coops, we soon noticed the roosters would even mount the 2-month-old chicks, eventually killing one of them in the process. We soon found one of roosters injured and near death after one of their duels, so we had to take immediate action.




We harvested all the young roos and HOCO, leaving only HOCO’s Brother since he was the most calm and the largest of them. We had read that rooster meat would probably be tough since they were so muscular and brawny, and that turned out to be correct. We slow cooked the first one and the meat was stringy and not so tender. We decided to grind up the meat and turn some of it into sausage. SUCCESS! We included some smoked bacon in the grinder for added juiciness and created some great recipes. We used the sausage in gravies, nachos, pizzas, and chili.




We served the sausage when our family came to visit, and it was devoured as quickly as the fluffy scrambled eggs and cream gravy. Here is the recipe we used:


5 pounds ground rooster meat (no skin)
1 pound bacon, ground with meat
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
2 large cloves fresh garlic. smashed to a paste
1 teaspoon fresh chopped fennel

We also added sharp cheddar cheese to one of the batches and grilled it outdoors. DELICIOUS!

Our experience has relieved our worries about getting too many roosters in the hatch. This solution puts meat in the freezer and calm back in the coop. Roosters will do what they instinctively do, but we couldn’t stand the thought of watching one more battle at the Waterhorn Ranch.

Bunny Therapy Day at the Office

LydiaLast spring, we decided to find some meat rabbits to add to our menu and did some online research to find out which breeds would offer us the best meat. We also thought we might want to use some for hides and expand our chicken/egg homestead.



There is so much information out there that we went round and round trying to figure out which breed we would choose. My handy-husband designed a four-room hutch behind the chicken coop, and we opted for California breed. Our first purchase was four cute California rabbits but we didn’t know how to sex them, so back to the computer we go.


When we finally figured out we had two males and two females, we separated them at maturity and waited until they could safely breed. Although our first attempt was a disaster due to a surprise birth on a cold December day, we soon opted for putting the pregnant females in the barn to avoid losing babies to the weather.

Baby bunnies are so cute and the thought of harvesting them for meat did not set well at first. We sold the first healthy batch on Craigslist and waited for our bravery to set in. We had several calls the first day, and I was secretly relieved that they wouldn’t end up on our dinner table. I brought a few in to work with me for delivery in the city and kept the pet porter under my desk. I thought I could keep my secret until a co-worker came in and saw them and asked if she could hold it. Soon after, I had people from various departments coming for some bunny therapy.


We sold the first batch to photographers, teachers, to parents with small children, and to a 4-H youth who wanted to raise them for competition. What a relief it was not to have to butcher them! It went against our goal as homesteaders, but it took some time to get over the brutality of it.

This spring, we raised the first batch of six and made rabbit stew, rabbit sausage, and ground rabbit meat to store in our freezer. I decided to try our first batch of rabbit sausage in our favorite homemade dish … Pizza.


It just so happened that my 5-year-old grandson wasn’t a fan of my pizza because it wasn’t round. He said it wasn’t real pizza and refused it until he realized that was all we had for dinner, so he forced down one square slice. He quickly got over it once I announced that he could go collect eggs – he really loved visiting the coop and collecting and counting the eggs. Later, he told me he wanted to be a farmer when he got big and “have everything” like we did. Kids are funny.

We did decide that we would have to keep one rabbit as a pet (for my grandson, of course). He was the only one born without spots like his mom or dad – just a velvety gray color.


We are on our fifth batch of baby bunnies and they are still very, very cute, but also very delicious. We will continue to expand our 5-acre homestead to include other varieties of chickens, bunnies, and maybe some cute calves soon.

The Wedding

LydiaHello, bloggers, it’s been a while since I took some time to write, but we have been busy at the Waterhorn Ranch since our daughter announced her engagement and we volunteered to host it for them on our property of weeds.





We all do things for different reasons, but if you have children, then you know that whatever example you set is what they’ll probably end up doing. In our quest for living the country life, we left the city behind and have been working on a 1947-1954 homestead that needed lots of TLC. Our offer to host a backyard wedding put all of our projects on hold, but we did it for love and it made it all better once we had the wedding behind us.



Had we known how much drama and work it would be, we might have thought twice about it, but in the end, we would have still done it. Our plan to update the 5-plus acres and landscape the backyard had been on the back burner, but this event thrust our plans forward in a big way!

In January 2014, we began to plan the May 31 wedding to be held in our backyard, which, at the time, consisted of a run-down barn, abandoned well house, a large chicken coop, a few tall trees and lots and lots of weeds! In the Lost Pines area of central Texas, most of the soil is completely sandy and doesn’t hold water very well, so planting things always means amending the soil; luckily, we have lots of chicken and rabbit poop to help it.


One of our projects for 2015 was a wooden pergola, a water feature, a fire pit, and a lawn to give us a backyard, so we moved our target date forward to May 31, 2014. I downloaded a template of a wedding planner and sent my daughter (who lives in New Mexico) a questionnaire of the type of things she would like for her wedding. Although she said she wanted to keep it simple with about 50 people in attendance, we wanted to do our best to make it nice and memorable on a small budget. Besides the major things, I received daily pictures of cakes, candles, chalkboards, photo tree bench, bouquets, and other decoration ideas from my daughter. Somehow, we managed to go from pasture to wedding venue.

We soon realized that the wedding plans would be almost exclusively based on items from Pinterest so I used it as a valuable resource to avoid re-inventing the wheel. If you haven’t been on the site, you can bet that there is at least one thing there that you’ll want to recreate. I copied everything I could to make decorations and found online designs for pergola and yard updates.



Since we both work weekdays, we came home every day with our to-do lists in hand and ready to check at least one thing off every day. During the week, we collected our two dozen or so eggs, tended to the two new Rottweiler puppies, 45 hens, 23 rabbits, 13 baby chicks, checked on the five beehives, and reviewed our project list. Our plan of attack was to do hardscaping first, then add compost, more compost, flowers and water. We’ve been in a drought for three years, but the chicken and rabbit poop compost helped things immensely.

We erected the pergola next to the barn, which ended up directly over the 1947 abandoned septic system. Miraculously, each of the four corner posts ended up barely touching the corners when we dug the holes in the ground. With all the large rocks we dug up in the process, we added a water feature and then added vines and flowers around the fire pit and pergola. By the end of April, we finished clearing the weeds and landscaping, but all of the tractor work destroyed any existing grass and weeds so we planted grass seed and prayed for rain. A week after we planted, it rained for four days in a row … voila! We have grass!

We constructed two makeshift tables (one of them was from the potting shed) and made a couple of tables out of wine barrels and cable spools (yes, they were from Pinterest ideas), and we used a canopy (that we bought to make our greenhouse) as the cover for the tables in case of rain.


My two sisters and their families came to help us a few days before the wedding and made the cakes and helped prepare the country barbecue for 50 people.



So the wedding is behind us. We have a real backyard. We will now resume our regularly scheduled programming of tending to small critters and going fishing! Cheers!





Birthday Bunnies


LydiaEvery now and then, we are reminded that we are still “new” at homesteading, regardless of how confident may we feel. Sometimes, it takes a couple of bunnies to put us back in our place and remind us that we must let nature take its course and experience yet another learning opportunity. This time, our two rabbit mamas taught us about timing. Timing is EVERYTHING!

Since does don’t stay in the nesting box to keep their kits warm like mother hens, we set up brooding lamps over the nesting boxes and will keep vigil on the babies to make sure they are getting fed by the mamas. Hopefully, they will instinctively nurse them and teach us a little more about rabbit husbandry. Our last attempt to bring in the new kits and warm them up came too late and somehow the mamas seemed to know there was no hope and didn’t try to nurse them. We bought kitten milk replacement and tried to nurse them ourselves, but none of them survived. We also found out (the hard way) they don’t always pull their hair out to make a nest. Poor babies!

We promise, we will do better.

Mama Bunny 

Last weekend, we brought the two pregnant rabbits into our chicken brooding room because the weather was expected to be in the low teens in central Texas. We’ve had two unsuccessful litters from these two mamas mostly because we failed to place the nesting box in their hutches in time.

No sooner had we completed their food and water set up in the brood room, when the barometric pressure dropped and the weather turned bitter cold. The first seven kits were born, and six survived their first night. The following morning the other doe had her six kits; five survived. This time, the does made a nest of their own fur and covered the babies. Except for removing the two dead ones, we were careful not to handle them to avoid any abandonment by the moms. So far, so good.


This litter seems more lively and is moving actively and making noise. Fingers crossed!BABIES

Growing Family

 New babies

LydiaWe started 2014 by adding two new family members. Since we live out in the country with chickens, rabbits, and soon to have cattle, we decided that our security system needed an upgrade.

Prior to moving to the country, our city-dog had never met a stranger she didn’t like or love. Although she barks at any approaching vehicle within an acre or two, she rolls onto her back for a belly-rub as soon as someone gets within touching distance. I think if she could talk, she would show them to the jewelry and fine china.

Kiki the friendly dog


After reading about various dog breeds, we opted for the Rottweiler breed since they have a good temperament and were originally bred as herding animals. We found someone selling Rottweiler puppies on Craigslist and just fell in love as soon as we met them. Yes, love at first sight happens with puppies! We took the last two girls of the litter, with one being the runt. At 7 weeks, one weighed 7 1/2 pounds and the other 10 pounds.

OSAGreta the runt

Osa, on the left, and Greta, on the right

We knew when we got them they would be two handfuls, but we are ready for the challenge. We set up their beds in the brooding room next to the garage, but we just couldn’t let them suffer through sub-40-degree temperatures so we put their kennel in the kitchen for now. They will be outside dogs (eventually), and they will guard the chickens and house someday, but for now, they are just beautiful little fur-balls to love and train.


Between training sessions

We are going into our second week with the Rotties, and they bring us so much joy watching them play together and romp after the toys.

Last weekend, I cooked a big pot of beans and added a leftover ham bone from Christmas dinner. I wasn’t sure how puppies would react to such a large prize, but instinctively, they tore into it with their little razor sharp teeth and demolished it in about two days. There is a small knuckle bone left, and they play “catch-me if-you-can” as soon as we hand it to them. So much fun!


Playing tug of war

Now, for Page 2 of this story; the puppies’ introduction to Kiki, the female Australian Sheppard, didn’t go as expected. As soon as she saw them, she took a sniff and decided she wanted nothing to do with them. OH NO! Kiki likes everybody and even the chickens aren’t intimidated by her, so we had to figure out what she didn’t like about the new puppies. As soon as they came close to her in submission, she tried to nip at them. (Time to read Cesar Milan’s blog!)

We tethered both puppies to one leash and took them for their first walk outside. Almost immediately, Kiki ran up and became very nervous. We will have to keep a close eye on them until the puppies get their manners and work on socializing them. Several introductions later, Kiki and the Rotties still have tension between them that will have to wear off slowly with continual exposure and assertive discipline from us.

Naptime and crate training

Barbecue and Chickens

Lydia2014 is here, ready or not. No sooner did we finish our holiday shopping and holiday meal planning, then it was 2014! Is it just me or does it seem the older we get, the faster the new year comes around?

Before the rush of the holidays, we tried to find a little peace and tranquility since we had a few rare days with temperatures in the 60s. We got home on the last Friday before Christmas and before our house full of company showed up. We decided we would cook some pork spareribs on the gas grill. It seemed easy enough to get them seasoned and put on the grill while we listened to them sizzle and contemplated the holiday menu over a glass of wine. My husband and I sat under the backyard porch and reflected on the busy 2013 we’d had as we watched the chickens peck.  I decided we needed more wine, and he decided the ribs needed more fire so we could eat sooner. As I stepped inside to pour a second glass, the phone rang, and I began a conversation with my daughter but quickly ended the conversation after I noticed billowing clouds of black smoke through the window.

Not Ready

As I rushed outside, I saw my husband pulling the gas grill out from under the porch to the center of the yard. There was a large fireball inside the grill, and he was trailing a plume of black smoke. 

“Do you need a fire extinguisher” I shouted. "No, I got this," he said. I went back inside and prepared the baked sweet potato side dish for our dinner and awaited the main entre.

My husband eventually came in the kitchen, face smudged in black, holding a platter of charcoal that used to be ribs. There was a gash on his chin and splatters of blood on his white T-shirt. “What happened?!” I asked. He had left the ribs on the grill to close the chicken coop door and ended up chasing one of our younger hens who decided she wanted to stay out longer. As he reached to pick her up, she erupted into flight and gouged his chin in the process, while the ribs turned into a bonfire. I was so tempted to reach for the camera, but I wasn’t sure he would find it as amusing as I did. Our quiet dinner was meager – sweet potatoes and a glass of wine. Oh, well.


One final lesson to practice next year. Never leave anything on the grill when you go put the chickens to bed.

Happy New Year, GRIT readers!


Making Lemonade

LydiaWe love living in the country! The stars seem so much brighter against the darkness, and the sunsets seem almost magical. We have dreamed of raising our own food and creating a sustainable garden for years, but we knew we couldn’t do that living in the city. We searched for months trying to find property that two people could maintain and be far enough to bring us serenity yet close enough to commute to our daily jobs. Finally, we opted for a fixer-upper property that had been vacant for a few years.

Sunset at Waterhorn Ranch
Sunset at Waterhorn Ranch

We knew from the onset that the abandoned property we bought for our homestead would be a challenge to transform. About a month after moving, we hadn’t decided if we would call it a farm or a ranch, but I think we both secretly called it a “lemon” after considering the seemingly daunting task of mowing 5 acres of tall weeds with a constantly broken tractor, fixing the leaks in the cellar, and repairing what we thought was a seamless oak floor (until we pulled the carpet and found termite damage).

Fall in Texas
Fall in Texas

The drought that has haunted Texas for several years has compelled us to feed and water only plants that we can consume. We will also be fencing the property for grazing cattle to reduce mowing and building a greenhouse with hydroponics to alleviate the pest and water problems. Both of our families thought we lost our minds when they saw the amount work that we were committing ourselves to doing, but with every checkmark we place next to our finished project, we gain strength to pursue our dreams and build our homestead.

Fresh Eggs
Fresh Eggs

Fresh Turnips
Fresh Turnips

Lemon Cucumbers
Lemon Cucumbers

On the bright side, collecting the green and brown eggs for our breakfast, having fresh chicken for dinner, and raising rabbits and dogs brings us the peace and tranquility we need to balance our city jobs. In only one year, we have tripled the size of the flock and coop, and we’ve added a rabbit hutch with two rabbit couples. We had our family reunion here this year, and my daughter is getting married in the pergola (we have yet to build) next May. In the spring, we will collect honey from our established beehives and, by the end of summer, we plan to start a non-profit to teach beekeeping to children under 12. Our hope is that we can instill the importance of bees in our ecosystem to newer generations and raise awareness in our community about living with nature.

2013 Family Reunion
2013 Family Reunion

The coop is finished
The coop is finished

Yes, we have our work cut out for us, but as we get used to our new daily routines, we become more passionate about being homesteaders and gain appreciation that comes from embracing nature and being able to harvest the rewards of our work. This Christmas, our family won’t receive the latest electronics from us, but instead will receive homemade beeswax candles, freshly canned vegetables and honey. I think they will be thrilled and we can sweeten our lemonade with a bit of fresh honey!

A Texas Merry Christmas to You
A Texas Merry Christmas to You