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T and E Acres Grows

March Came Like a Lion

Erin C


This past week we had some pretty rough storms. Since we don’t have a storm shelter, my husband and I hunkered down in the innermost closet we have in the house and listened as Mother Nature hurled hail, rain, and tree branches at our little home. Through the roar of what sounded like a train overhead, all I could think was “my poor chickens.” At the same time that it sounded like the whole house might come down around us, I heard what had to be a bomb being dropped, there’s just no other explanation.

My parents texted after they emerged from their storm shelter — three relatively unhappy cats in carriers, mom covered in mud from a tumble down the hill to the shelter — “We’re safe and the house is fine. You guys OK?” Exhausted from a night of absolutely no sleep and the 5 A.M. adrenaline from the worst storm we have had in this house, we slept for a couple of hours.

When we went to let the chickens out of the coop and look around, we noticed limbs strewn all around the yard, siding missing from the chicken coop, and the source of the boom — we had a pine tree down across the yard. It had thankfully only landed on our garden, which is just a patch of grass and clover at the moment. There are a few shingles missing from the roof, and we are missing a couple of small pots that didn’t get wedged in tight enough, but we were extremely lucky.

As we took pictures and discussed what to do next, we realized two things: we are missing an essential homestead tool, a good chainsaw; and we don’t have a good emergency plan. We have prepared some for emergencies, but there are a few key things missing. It was different when it was just us and the housecats. We have a couple of gallons of water in our freezers and there are three freezers and multiple shelves full of frozen and canned goods. We have a grill, and we can turn scrap limbs into firewood if need be. We won’t starve. But now we have chickens and ducks, and in a few months we are getting pigs. How would we water them? We don’t have a good system for making sure that, if the power was out for a couple weeks and the water piped in wasn’t potable, we can water our livestock. That’s a problem. So on the list of things that we have to find creative ways to take care of quickly, that’s right up there at the top.

Last year, our HVAC went out. And we had to have it replaced, which for a number of reasons took us 3+ weeks. In those three or so weeks was the run of days with temperatures in the teens. So let’s just say I’m no stranger to wearing a sweater, coat, and hat to bed. We had space heaters that we left in rooms with pipes; we needed to not burst all our pipes worse than I needed to have a consistent 67 degrees in the bedroom. That experience spurred us both to buy good, heavy-duty wool socks, better boots, and other underclothes to keep warm when we need it. So if we were a little cold, we would be OK.

But the other problem is the lack of a chainsaw. I said earlier we didn’t have a good chainsaw, but I should amend that to no chainsaw. We had to cut down a large pine tree (we have way too many pine trees on our little property) a couple years ago because it was leaning on and killing my pear tree. Sorry pine, the pear gives me food I like. And I am allergic to you. So down it came. It is still sitting there in all its piney, slowly-rotting glory. And now we have another pine tree down due to the storm. We also have five more about 12-15 feet behind the house, and they are three times as tall as the house. If a storm knocked one of those over, our house would be a sad little pile of rubble. So, as soon as we can get someone out here that is good at cutting down trees, they have to go. But to save money we are planning to cut the pines up ourselves. Hence, we are right back to the chainsaw conundrum.

A good chef will tell you that there are essential tools for running a good kitchen — a sharp chef’s knife, good heavy-bottomed pots, and quality ingredients. As a nurse, I can honestly say that if I have a good stethoscope and a pair of bandage scissors, I am set for a shift. And any homesteader that is serious about what they do will tell you that an essential addition to a homestead is a good chainsaw. (And a quality emergency plan.) How and where will you get water? Food? Heat if you need it? These are all things that should be planned for. We have so far taken baby steps in our homesteading journey, but it’s time to make bigger and better plans and investments. Because anything worth doing is worth taking the time to do right.

New Year, New Us

Erin CAreYouMyMummy

Whether you loved it or hated it, 2016 is gone. Personally I didn’t love it; too many loved ones passed. As we move into the new year, as the days get longer, and as we get back into our routines, many of us are making resolutions. Some of us will resolve to be skinnier, some of us will resolve to be healthier, and some of us will resolve to be wealthier. Last year, my one and only resolution was to love more — basically to be more open to new things and embrace the good. It was vague, open-ended, and easy to achieve.

This year, I’m going for something a little more concrete. This year, the resolution will be more work and it will be more difficult, but I think I’m ready to try. OK that sounds wishy-washy; I know that I think that I might be ready to possibly, perhaps, try something new. There, that’s better.

I will go ahead and admit I am terrible at New Year’s resolutions, mostly keeping them. I strongly resemble Dory the fish with my resolutions: “Hey everybody, I’m on a diet, eating healthy, feeling good ... Oh look! Cake.” Typically, I don’t even make it to February — yes, I’m that person. There have been changes that I’ve made in my life that have stuck, so it’s not that I can’t do it. The beginning of a new year is just not the best motivation for me. Change can happen and take hold any time of year. And honestly, this year may be no different. I’m not going to lie to you or to myself. I might be exactly where I started this year when February rolls around. But I am going to try. That’s better than nothing.

To kick off the new year, I plan on sitting down and, using the millions (fine, dozens) of homestead printables I found, I am going to put some organization to this house and homestead. While it’s probably better emotionally to not know exactly how much my beautiful chickens cost me in feed, financially it is easier to plan when I keep track of feed costs, eggs laid, sick chickens, and anything that has to be replaced.

I also need to go back and do a freezer and pantry inventory. This time last year, my hubby and I got out a spreadsheet and inventoried the freezers, but at some point it got misplaced. So, every time we used something, we didn’t write it down. Now we find foods we forgot we had and go digging for foods that we used up long ago. I started buying bulk baking supplies this year and currently have a bunch of things we don’t use regularly. But, every time I go to make something with them I buy a new supply, because I forget that I shoved it to the very back of the cabinets. If I knew what I needed and what I really don’t need, it would be easier, more cost effective, and less stressful shopping for some food items. In a nutshell, Resolution #1 for 2017 is to make a homestead binder, keep up with it, and update it. And that means long-term, not just until February when I lose it.

OK, whew, that was a lot of work just thinking about all that. Can I be done? No? Alright, fine.

Resolution #2 for 2017 (drum roll please) is we are giving up sodas. This has been a resolution, plan, idea, whatever for me for as long as I can remember. Probably about as long as I have been binge-drinking sodas. I don’t have a soda every day, or even every week, but then I have a rough night at work and I drink three. Or we go out for dinner and instead of getting water or a coffee, I order a soda. We don’t keep soda in the house, which is not difficult for us; frankly, we don’t even really like soda. When we haven’t had any for a while, it tastes like overly-sweetened chemicals. But for whatever reason, I still drink them.

For the longest time I thought it was a willpower issue. I came to the realization this past month that it is an attitude issue instead. I personally believe that willpower is kind of a myth. We have to convince ourselves not to even think about Thing A, lest we crave it. Because we all know once we crave it, it’s all over. You know that’s true; that’s why diets fail, why diets have cheat food or cheat days, why people abandon resolutions. But instead of giving myself an out by saying, “Oh well, obviously I just don’t have any willpower,” I’m going to change my attitude. It is no longer a willpower problem for me, because I’m taking soda off the metaphorical table. It is not a comfort food, it is not a treat, and it is not an option. I have started using this tactic for anything toxic in my life, and it has worked really well so far.

There are more resolutions that I want to try to keep: put money in the savings account, raise more of our own meat, learn a new skill, and try out a Couch to 5K. I want to grow our homestead, I want to grow our health, I want to grow the love we tackle any new project with, and I want to try new things. I want to take more steps towards sustainability and towards being debt free. I want to eat good food, and I want to build my physical strength.

It’s kind of funny, looking over my New Year’s resolutions. I’m resolving to do the same thing that I did last year. Except this year I have a plan.


Looking Ahead

Erin CGreen tomatoes

2016, you're being mean. No seriously, enough is enough. I have tried to sit down and write for a month now, and I have found myself unable to even create a blog about my chickens. I lost my cousin recently. My husband’s grandmother went into hospice. We lost our first chicken to a predator. A massive wildfire destroyed Pigeon Forge and the forests of East Tennessee, which was devastating to that area and cost 14 people their lives. Hurricanes Matthew and Hermine caused quite a bit of damage. The Standing Rock pipeline and resulting protests have shown many of us that when it comes to water rights, big companies tend to get the upper hand.

And there were some real losses to the world via celebrity deaths this year: Abe Vigoda, who our rooster was named after; Alan Rickman, who was one of my favorite villains to ever set foot on a movie set; Harper Lee; Muhammad Ali; Gordie Howe; Elie Wiesel; the list goes on and on and on. We lose celebrities every year, people who we don’t really know, but who hold some strange place in our lives. But really, 2016 sucker-punched my childhood. 2016 went straight for my happy memories; Prince, Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard, and David Bowie all brought beauty to the world through their music. Robert Vaugh, who many people remember from The Man From U.N.C.L.E., but who I remember watching for the first time with my dad in the Magnificent Seven (my favorite cowboy movie ever) as a flawed hero. Gene Wilder who was a favorite in so many movies that I loved as a child and into adulthood. Kenny Baker, who played R2D2, passed away this year; seriously 2016? You couldn’t leave the droid alone?

So when I say it has been one thing after another, we all know that, right? From small upsets, like a stranger who made movies passing away, to major catastrophes, this year has had a lot of bad news to spread. I have to admit that I was feeling a little overwhelmed and sad. Bad news is nothing new, and usually I bounce back, but 2016 was just not having any of that.

But positive things happen in our lives, too, and they have a way of balancing out the bad. Because life isn’t really all good or all bad, but a mix of the two. I was at work the other night when I was reminded of this by a coworker who, without even realizing it, lifted my spirits. I work in an ICU in a large hospital in downtown Memphis, TN. I work with nurses who travel from the northern part of Missouri, with nurses who travel 10 minutes down the road, with medical assistants that walk to work, and medical assistants that drive 45 minutes. I work with people from every kind of background, socioeconomic class, gender, race, and culture. I work with vegans and die-hard carnivores, people who can’t boil water, and gourmet chefs. And so many times that I’m at work, I’m also talking to these people about food. I love to talk about food, and I love to talk about how and why we raise our own food. I genuinely enjoy bringing a dish for the whole unit to try, talk about how the majority of the ingredients came from my backyard, and how it was prepared.

The medical assistant that we were working with that night doesn’t usually float to our floor, but she’s trying to come down more often. She was born and raised in apartments in Memphis. She is a city girl through and through. And this past weekend, she couldn’t wait to share her news with me: she just signed a lease on a house for the first time. She is going to have a yard and a large kitchen. And she told me that I had inspired her to make this change; she told me that she wanted to learn to grow her own vegetables. She was so excited for this change to happen that she had started planning the herb window box that she was going to plant as soon as she moved in.

This conversation lifted me right out of the funk I had been in. I inspired someone to try growing vegetables! Growing and raising food is something that I am truly passionate about, and I enjoy sharing this with others. We have gotten so far away from our food that it’s hard to believe that, just a couple of generations ago, it wasn’t trendy or strange for people to have a couple chickens in their backyard; it was normal. Canning and gardening were just a part of the routine. There has been a resurgence the last few decades of people “getting back to the land.” I think the popularity of homesteading waxes and wanes like the cycles of the moon, but some people live this lifestyle because living any other way is not an option. And I think we need to show people who don’t naturally embrace the farm life that they can grow some of their own vegetables, too. Taking an active role in their own food prep is not only exciting, but worth the work of planting and harvesting when you cut into your own ripe tomato.

I realized this weekend what my husband has been trying to tell me all year: That while we have some things to complain about, there isn’t much, and we certainly have much more to enjoy and be thankful for. And my friends and coworkers reminded me that I can’t control everything, but I can make a huge impact on some people. And that’s what counts.

Canned food

In Regards to Pie Crust

Erin CPie1

It’s that time of year again — leaves are changing colors, the air is more brisk, pumpkin-spice everything abounds, and it’s cool enough with the windows open that I want to bake all night. It’s also the time of year that so many of us ruin that diet we worked so hard on over the summer.

One night recently, I had finished dinner and most of the dishes, and my husband decided he really needed to do more work in the shop. So I figured what better time to start a baking frenzy? I looked at the five-pound Ziploc bag of lard I have in the fridge and wondered if the taste really was better than shortening. It's been so long since I baked anything with shortening, I couldn’t remember. So I dug out the last dregs of shortening that I had stashed out of sight, and I decided that this was the perfect time to not only bake a little, but to do an experiment. I decided to use both to see how they stacked up.

I chose to bake some pumpkin-hybrid pie. Pumpkin-hybrid pie is what you get when you cook down the innards of the beast of a squash that is the love child of a butternut squash and pumpkin. My parents had a bumper crop of these squash, so we have freezers full. With my filling out of the way, I started on the pie crusts.

Very first, I can tell you that working with the shortening was a little bit easier; it spreads into my measuring cups and out of them easier. This is intentional, of course, and it is part of what makes shortening so bad for your health. The lard is wetter than the shortening to begin with, so you don’t have to add as much water to the dough to get the consistency that you want. I used about two tablespoons less water in the lard pie crust.

After I let them chill in the fridge for a little while, I took out my dough balls and divided them both in half, so I had four total. I put two back in the fridge for pie crusts, and I rolled the other two out into pie tops that I intended to cut shapes into for decoration. The lard crust was more difficult to roll out, again the problem being that the dough is just a touch stickier from the moisture content. I added some flour, but it didn’t eliminate the problem entirely. The lard warms up more quickly than the shortening as well, which makes it harder to work into a crust. The shortening, on the other hand, I had a hard time rolling out without it splitting. As it got thinner, the dough wanted to come apart. I added just a little bit of water to correct for the dryness of the dough, but it still wasn’t as uniform when I rolled it out. It was easier to cut shapes from though, as the dough didn’t stick to everything it touched.

When I went to put the different doughs in the pie pans and get my pies in the oven, the lard crust had the same problems as before — hard to handle. It was soft enough that it tore easily, and when I tried to roll it out again, it only got marginally better. The great thing about the lard crust though, is that if you don’t get too frustrated, you can always go back and put little left over pieces into the crust where they are most needed. I did just that and had good results. The dough is easier to form into the pan itself, and to shape if you are interested in a fancy edge.

The shortening continues to be a little drier and has a harder time spreading in the pan if there are thin spots that need some love. But it holds a shape really well around the edge.

Both lard and shortening have their faults, and it probably just comes down to preference in the end. The lard crust is more difficult to work with, but the result is so worth the extra time and effort for me personally. If it were a mere taste test, lard crust wins every day of the week. The flavor is richer without being overwhelming. And as frustrated as I got working that dough, when I took my first bite of pie, I remembered exactly why I switched to lard in the first place.

Seeing Red

Erin CThere is a meme that says “How do you become a millionaire farming? Start out a billionaire.”

It’s no secret that homesteading and farming are expensive to begin and to maintain. We got lucky with our chicken coop, because that building was already there; we just had to add some windows and a front door, and we were ready to go! But a from-the-ground-up chicken coop can get pricey. Starting out is a delicate balancing act, and there is a lot of hurry up and wait on a new homestead. And there are moments of panic like I had today.

I’m sure at least some of you reading this are familiar with the sensation: I checked my bank balance and discovered I was in the red. It only takes once to carve that feeling of panic into your memory. I have experienced this event more than once, but not recently. When I was in school and waiting tables, I managed to have more outgoing than incoming a few times. On this particular occasion, it was a perfect storm of factors: I had a busy weekend at work and forgot to clock in for a shift, which I only discovered when I didn’t get paid for said shift. So my check was really short that pay period. Then I sat down and paid the bills, and immediately forgot about my car payment. It automatically withdraws, and I thought I had a much bigger cushion than it turned out I did. I also spent some money that I didn’t have to spend, which happens. So as I sat staring at the red numbers across the screen, I panicked. And felt like crying a little bit. And acted like a two year old for a few minutes (OK, maybe an hour).

We had been doing really well with our budget and paying off old debts. I was really excited the other day when I got to tell my parents that one of my student loans will be paid off this month. We were in a pretty good place. But let’s be honest — for most of us, $300 isn’t pocket change. And the unexpected lack of $300 isn’t a comfortable place to be. Well, I got over my temper tantrum and made peace with the idea that we would be staying close to home this week and not raiding the farmer’s markets and thrift stores. Then my husband asked if I was ready to go to the feed store. Oh crap. The ducks, chickens, and the rabbit were all out of feed. Cue meltdown #2. Honestly, I am usually more in control of my temper than this, but this was just the last straw. I had made peace with not having milk for my coffee; I had made peace with not having butter to cook with, but this was too much. My babies were going to be hungry. And on a homestead or a farm, where your livestock are also your livelihood, this is not acceptable.

Thankfully, my husband saved the day; he had just gotten paid from a couple of custom knives he recently finished up. So we could afford feed. And he got milk for my coffee.

When we got home, he went outside to his forge to work on a wedding gift he is making for someone, and I decided to mow. The front yard was looking a little shabby, and I needed to work off some of the adrenaline from the banking disaster earlier. I mow a little differently than my husband does; he is a "get the whole thing done in one big push" kind of guy, and I like to break the yard up into sections so I can look at it when I feel like quitting and see that I only have three more sections to go. As I was making my way around the different sections of the yard mowing, I was also beating myself up about the bank account. How could I be so careless? How had I gotten so distracted that I overdrew that much? I struggle sometimes with money and budgeting; I think that’s probably pretty common. But this hit me a lot harder than any of the times I'd messed up my math and money before. Earlier in my life, when it was just me, if I didn’t have any money in the checking account, I could live on the Ramen noodles in the emergency cabinet. But now, it’s me and my husband and an ever-growing number of animals, both pets and livestock, that depend on me not to forget how to add and subtract.

So as I was about to pass out from pushing that stupid mower around the yard, I resolved that we would take a metaphorical Ramen-approach to the budget for a little while — make sure we build back up to what we had before I missed a whole 12-hour shift on the paycheck, and then we can move forward from there.

I may be in the red until Thursday, but at least my yard looks nice. And, just like most other farms out there, even if my husband and I don’t eat like kings, our animals are fed.


Sick Chicken

If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you know I am a little bit of a crazy chicken lady. OK, I’m a crazy chicken lady through and through. Anyway, we take our fowl very seriously here, and that includes not losing any. We had a sick hen recently, and for a day or two she didn’t look too good. We noticed she was spending a lot of time in the coop, even when we let everyone else out for some supervised free range time. She also didn’t seem to be eating much or drinking. We had a meeting and decided our first step was to separate her from the other birds. Since we don’t have a hospital wing set up, we did the logical thing: we brought her in the house.

When my husband picked her up she didn’t put up a fuss, which is unusual for this bird. And he said she felt like she had lost some weight. We put her in the bathroom on the tile and gave her food and water and watched. She was droopy, didn’t hold her tail up, didn’t move around and didn’t complain about the accommodations. Not eating is bad, but not drinking water would kill her faster, so I got into my bag of medical supplies and found a 3cc syringe. We mixed up some water with chicken electrolytes and I dropped it on her beak. She drank a little, so I tried a larger amount. She drank right from the syringe, and I got two full syringes in her before she refused any more.

Since she kept nodding off, we made a cubby for her to sleep in and left her alone for a little while to get some rest. That night we checked on her every three or four hours, just to make sure she was okay, and each time gave her a little water with the syringe. The next morning she was a little perkier, and I had a surprise waiting on me in the bathroom floor. Side bar: I’m a nurse by trade, so poop is no stranger to me. I’m not squeamish, and I have no problem looking at and poking around in it. Gloves on, of course. Our sickly chicken, Hodor, had left me a giant pile of the weirdest looking chicken poop I have ever seen. I made sure when we got chickens to look at pictures of healthy chicken poop and not-so-healthy chicken poop. That might make me a little strange, but I don’t like surprises, and when it comes to health I like to know what to expect. This particular poo wasn’t within any of the healthy parameters, with the exception of the white urea in it. It was bright green and had quite a bit of undigested food in it. I did what any person in this day and age would do, and I searched the internet.

As can happen when one decides to turn to the digital arena for answers, I got a myriad of different explanations. Cancer was among the most often mentioned, but I wondered if that was even a probability given that this chicken isn’t very old. It is possible, but not probable. Another very popular idea was E. coli. That was not comforting, since it is contagious. And, of course, there was the page that thought maybe aliens, but I discounted that after some careful thought.

It just so happened that the next day we had to take one of the cats to the vet for his yearly check-up. After it was determined that he is indeed still a cat and kind of a whiner, I politely asked my vet if she minded looking at the pictures of the poop I had taken. She very kindly agreed to take a look and, after a fairly quick study, she told me she was going to give me a shot for the chicken. Oh, and don’t eat this chicken for at least two weeks. Hodor is one of our egg hens, so she is safe in that regard. I did ask about eating the eggs, and the vet said that wouldn’t be a problem.

We got home, let the cat out of the bag, and went to check on Hodor the chicken. She was more awake than she had been, and she had moved from her previous spot, so that we took as a good sign. Then my husband picked her up and held her while I did as the vet instructed and stuck that needle in my poor, sweet chicken's breast meat. If everyone was as relaxed as that chicken was, my job would be so easy.

The day after the shot she was walking around the bathroom, clucking and eating. When we opened the door, she just walked on out like she owned the place and proceeded to make a menace of herself in the living room. We gave her some watermelon and sweet corn to reward her for being so good, and then we decided to keep her one more night just to be sure. She has been back with the flock for a week now, and she is as healthy and active as ever. We have been keeping a really close eye on the yard and coop for any other neon green poop, but so far we are clean. I knew when we started this homesteading journey there would be times we would have to treat our livestock’s medical problems, but if you ever told me I would be giving shots to chickens, I would have laughed.

Chicken on the Loose

A Short Word On Ducks

Erin CNew ducks

My husband and I were talking about getting ducks next year, when we had a chance to catch up from everything new we are doing this year. It was agreed up, and a pinky-swear oath was performed. Then that man took me to the feed store. Let’s just say that they had a few older Rouen ducks on sale (not brand new ducklings) and that “on sale” are a siren song to this farm girl. We talked about it while we walked around the store getting the items that we actually came for, and by the time we made our way back to the ducks, we had agreed, that while this was probably a bad idea, what could go wrong? A few minutes later, we were the proud new parents of two ducks; hopefully a drake and a duck.

Let me tell you what I knew about raising ducks before last week: they’re cute and they like water, and their eggs taste pretty darn good. Let me tell you what I know about ducks this week: they are so messy! In all seriousness though, what is different about raising ducks than, say raising chickens? There are a few things about ducks to keep in mind if you decide to raise them, and really the information is almost common sense.

Ducks are a good investment because they will lay eggs year round without the help of a light, instead of taking a small break like chickens. Their eggs have more fat content, and are perfect for baking. Personally, I think the extra fattiness of the eggs make them more buttery and therefore an egg-cellent breakfast food.

Ducks are also more resistant to heat, cold and disease than chickens. They have a layer of fat that protects them from the cold in the winter, dip themselves in water in the heat of the summer and in general, are just easier to keep healthy.

And to go back to what I knew about ducks a couple of weeks ago, they are darn cute. We value our animals for their personalities as much as for the food they provide. It’s like going to the home improvement store; spending money fixing up the house is a little painful, but if the cashier is a ham, the trip is easier to take. We know that cleaning up after the ducks at least three times a day will be painful, but the fact that they are funny helps take some of the pain away.

So what should you keep in mind about raising ducks now that I have you convinced you need some? First, if you have a secure chicken coop and yard, your ducks can live there. They need a lot of water, and will make a mess of the chicken waterer, so what we are doing is inside the coop, we have a hanging chicken waterer with the nipples and the ducks have their own waterer. Outside all the water is fair game. We have started feeding our birds a mixed flock feed so that it meets the dietary requirements of all our different kinds of feathered friends.

Ducks make their nests on the ground, so a little extra hay in a corner would be sufficient for our two ducks. Just don’t put them under the chicken roosts or your ducks will get pooped on, and nobody likes that.

And ducks can forage with the best of them. If you have the space for them to free range, they will mostly feed themselves. They will keep the bug population down in your yard, all without tearing it up the way chickens tend to do. Just make sure you are free ranging on a yard that hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals.

With a little understanding of their messy ways, your ducks will quickly become an integral part of a mixed flock and hold a special place in your heart and homestead. I look forward to finding new breeds of ducks to raise, as well as watching our silly birds swim and bob on their pond (currently under construction).

New ducks in the bathtub