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Thursday, May 24, 2012

The farm house

I am a very organized person.  This is not simply a self-proclamation, several of my past employers would attest to this fact.  If you were to walk into my kitchen this morning, you would think otherwise.  The farm house is the center of the operation on every farm, even this fledgling operation.  Every project is born within these walls perhaps only as an idea, then a doodle on a napkin or the back of an envelope, then materials lists, and online searches or library loans to layout the project.  Once the plans are in place, the tools to craft the project and even some of the supplies are usually stored within.
Several projects lay in various states of completion throughout the garage, back room, workshop, and kitchen.  The word I want to highlight from that last sentence is completion, it has been a productive week.  Tools from the completed pig pen remain on the work bench in the garage for the last few punch list items and for easy access in the event of a cleaver fugitive.

Dandelion flowers recently went into the freezer from the kitchen table, the goal, to make dandelion jelly for farmers market this year.  Lilac jelly doesn't look as promising as a frost after early warm weather appears to have taken its toll on those blossoms.  Geraniums sit on the front porch waiting for their assigned spot in the front flower bed this year.  Other flower bulbs and seedlings occupy the kitchen table and the counter where the microwave used to be waiting their place in line for planting.  Garlic scapes which have been harvested now rest in the kitchen sink for processing when the little man is sleeping or otherwise occupied by his toys.

Recycled egg cartons and the last of the cleaned home-brewing supplies from the first batch of ale rest atop the dryer because they didn't make it into the cupboard when the rest of the components were put away.  My back room is filled with all sorts of containers for anything from jams and jellies to maple syrup and baked goods for farmers market. 

My kitchen remains the staging ground for various projects and my garage, well, besides being home to rabbits and four week old pullets captures whatever other projects we are working on.  I am not worried that Better Homes and Gardens will be visiting any time soon.  But, the dishes are clean, the floors are swept, there are clean sheets on the bed and the bathrooms are disinfected regularly - the rest will get done when it gets done.  This is the story of a farm house - well used, well lived in, witness to the birth of plants, animals, people, and pets - if only the house could tell us its story.

Farm house drawing by Robert Hammond

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rain-catchment system

This is my unusual rain-catchment system. 

Plans are on the list for an-official rain catchment system, in the meantime - the cat litter bucket and laundry detergent bucket above, as well as several five-gallon pails, make up my rain-catchment system.  So far, the rain in northwestern Vermont has occurred almost daily.  As such all of the water for the greenhouse plants has been collected from the roof of the house.

I have collected several rain gutters and leaders, but they remain resting in the basement waiting for their place in the function of the farm.  Until then, I am proud that I haven't pumped one ounce of water out of the well in order to water any of our agricultural adventures.  Now, the rabbits - that is a different story.

Sleep escapes me

When I came home from work, very early this morning, I knew that sleep would escape me for several hours to come.  I sat in my big comfy chair with a book from the library hoping that sleep would soon follow.  Farm City by Novella Carpenter proved to be far too interesting.  With each chapter I found myself thinking of new farm projects and several phone calls we received this week from folks wanting more rabbits than we can provide at this juncture.

2:15 a.m. and sleep still escaping me, I put down my book and stepped outside.  The only noises were the rustling of the wind through the too tall grass desperately requiring attention from the lawn mower which was only repaired minutes before leaving for my off farm job, and the peeping of the frogs.  The smell of moist, freshly turned earth from the garden and the farmer down the road who will plant corn in the meadow in front of the house filled the air.

On this quiet, warm, spring morning while most everyone slumbers, I soak in the sounds and smells of life waiting to spring forth from the ponds and pastures.  Have I mentioned lately how lucky I am to be able to live this life, on this farm in northwestern, VT.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Idler pulley

# 33 is the culprit!

New part procured, perhaps tomorrow it will mow again.

Drawing courtesy of

Friday, May 11, 2012

First trip to the processor

We made our first trip to the processor just over a week ago now.  Much like the day that we were to butcher the pigs, I wasn't quite sure how well I was going to handle the dispatch of the fuzzy critters we had raised from almost babies.  But very similar to that day in December, I did better than I had expected.

The day began with preparing snacks, a diaper bag and beverages for the three hour round trip, plus time spent at the processor.  Sandwiches, water, bottle, diapers and wipes were collected, packaged and put in the car.   A tarp was folded and placed in the back of the SUV in order to collect any stray defecation from the bunnies and cages were pulled down from the rafters of the garage.  Little man was packed in his car seat and sat in his stroller nearby to watch the unfolding comedy of collecting 20 rabbits from their hutches.  Catching rabbits in two by three foot cages should be pretty easy, they don't have very far to run.  Giggles erupted from the little man as rabbits thumped and ran around their cages causing quite a commotion.  After 20 rabbits were captured and caged I felt like I had done my cardio workout for the day.

It was a glorious day, sun shining, temperatures in the upper 60's.  The ride was uneventful, made even more so by a snoozing baby.  We arrived at the processor/butcher thirty minutes early as the directions procured from the Internet were designed for a much slower driver than I.  We visited with another couple who had brought in their pigs to be processed, two women from down state who also had rabbits and another man who had culled an older beef cow.  Right before our time to unload arrived, the little man awoke and was thrilled to take part in the activities at this new location with new people, sounds and smells.

Rabbits were unloaded six at a time.  The scale only goes to 50 lbs.  With rabbits averaging just under six pounds a piece, weighing six at a time gives room for overage not to exceed the scales capacity.  116.21 lbs of rabbit.  Three days earlier we had culled a doe who had buck teeth and was unable to care for the litter that she had.  Beautiful, active pink bunnies were born into a nest box with pine shavings and some hay.  Normally does start pulling hair a day or so before they kindle to prepare the box.  She hadn't pulled any hair, but it was warmer than usual so we weren't too concerned.  Numbering 12, the little hairless critters were defenseless save for their own body heat.  Mom ignored them.  No hair in the box at all.  Between DH going to bed and my returning home from work, less than two hours, all of them had passed.  She was an older rabbit and we had some trouble killing her.  We asked the butcher if he would permit us to watch while he processed the first couple of rabbits to see what we had done wrong or could do more effectively. 

Starting with younger rabbits appeared to be the key.  The next was an extremely sharp knife - we have good knives - he had better.  We watched as he quickly and efficiently dispatched five rabbits in about four minutes a piece.  Little man stayed with us and I was concerned that he might be witnessing something so gruesome at such a young age, then I remembered that I was hanging around when a cow or deer was butchered when I was little and still turned out OK.  Watching the processor butcher and clean our rabbits was much the same as the pigs, the initial "pop" and removal of the head was a little shocking, after that I did fine.  This is a process I will be repeating several times as we save a couple of rabbits for our own consumption, I just need sharper knives.

Our proceeds for the day were good and we are just under a third of the way back from the money that we have invested in this venture.  We lost one litter due to neglect from mom and found out that one other doe we thought was pregnant, wasn't.  So it will take us a little longer than we had planned to break even, but so far it has been a pretty good learning experience.  After our first bout with loose stools, the rabbits are healthy and growing quickly.  Our most recent litters are nine (there were 12) and six born on the 3rd and the 7th.  The litter whose progression this blog is following were born on 4/19/12.  I hope to have their three week old picture posted soon.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The fresh clean smell after the rain

As my days off drew to a close this afternoon I ran over our accomplishments from the past few days and the growing disappointment was palpable: 
  • DH and company had gone out turkey hunting in the cool spring rains and returned with the same number of shells that they left with and no turkey. 
  • I got to spend quite a lot of time with the little man as he has found his recent napping pattern no longer to his liking.  My limited time off is short, even shorter snoozes require ingenuity to play with little man and accomplish tasks like laundry and even vacuuming.
  • The shed has walls and salvaged bay window installed but still lacks a door and a roof.  Installing OSB is made even more interesting when you remember you don't have a step-ladder.  Nailing OSB to the framing ten-feet in the air can present it's own challenges.  This is what they invented tractor buckets for - OSHA, don't look.
  • The garage/rabbit shed has been cleaned and prepared for another week.  We moved one of the racks (empty after our first trip to the processor) outdoors for cleaning and disinfecting and one of the waste deflectors broke.  One more thing to be added to the to-do list. 
  • Some basic house cleaning was done, results of the white-glove test will certainly be - Fail.  Sweeping while smiling and making faces at your little man and dancing around the broom - not the most efficient cleaning method, but moderately effective.
  • All of the squash seeds were planted in the green house.  One or two of the arches has come loose from the PVC cross connectors - one more thing to be added to the to-do list. 
  • Rainy weather has prevented us from working on the lawn tractor; the garage remains otherwise occupied.  Lawns were not mowed and the grass growing between the Christmas trees will require brush-hogging first and then perhaps the mower can handle the close up work when it is repaired.  Apparently there is a pulley which is frozen and will either need a new bolt or will need to be replaced entirely - the full diagnosis cannot be made until we are able to remove it from the lawn tractor.  This time I will try my mechanical skills without a five-month old in one hand and a wrench in the other.
Sometimes I get discouraged with the ever increasing to-do list and the declining amount of time in which to get it all accomplished.  I get overwhelmed with the time each task takes with older, decomposing equipment, including the time to fix the equipment as it breaks.  My son, who is nothing but a blessing, adds to my stresses because I feel that I am not spending sufficient time with him.  New starts to projects like rabbits are consuming time planned for established projects like the greenhouse, vegetable growing and farmers market.  Then there is this little thing called money which is required to pay electric bills and purchase feed for the livestock which in turn feeds us; my off-farm job requiring a 40 hour plus commitment each week.

As I felt the disappointment washing over me in what was not accomplished, I noticed an eagle fly over the Christmas trees.  I set down my bag of fresh pine shavings and watched this beautiful majestic creature who appeared not to have a care in the world as it rode the updrafts created by our changing weather.  I listened as our new roosters stretched their vocal cords in an attempt to compete with the older ones.  I heard the little man whimper over the baby monitor indicating that he had awoken from his morning slumber looking for a smile, a clean diaper and his lunch.  I look around at all of the half-finished projects and then I thought to myself how lucky I am to know this life.  Coming into the house covered in sweat, pine shavings and rabbit fur, I pass the two new litters of baby bunnies and three week old adorable little bunnies who are beginning their explorations outside of the nest box.  War wounds revealed as I get into the shower made up of black and blue from walking too close to the tractor, scratches from rough cut lumber and disgruntled rabbits, and sore muscles from a full day's physical labor.  The hot steamy shower washes most of it away although the sore muscles require a little longer for the pain reliever to work.   I get dressed and ready to leave the farm for the job that currently pays the bills kissing DH and little man good night.  Some people will never know more than the concrete jungles which consume their entire lives.  

The fresh clean smell of the farm after the rain fills my nostrils and contentment washes over me in all that we were able to accomplish during the past few days and the past few years.  Soon enough I will be able to spend all day on the farm and know that we are providing for ourselves completely.  Sometimes I just need to remind myself how lucky I really am.

Photos courtesy of Google Image Searches for royalty free photos - new photos of the shed remain on the camera.  The eagle and I have a mutual understanding about having our photograph taken.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A not so productive day

As I peeled back the covers this morning after a night of restless sleep (if you could call it sleep) I groaned at the piercing sound of the alarm clock.  The house was quiet so I jumped up fairly quickly knowing that if the alarm did not cease the house would soon be filled with another piercing sound - that of our almost five-month-old son.  He stirred in his crib but did not wake.  I found clothes and dragged my tired body into the kitchen for some much needed coffee, which I found to be barely luke-warm.  This indicated that DH had been up with our little man for several hours already.  Lest I sound like a dead beat, my off-farm job is working second shift, some days 3pm - 11pm and others 5pm - 1am.  Last night I got done at 11pm, came home and watered rabbits and fed baby chickens before I went in and laid down around midnight with sleep escaping me for what seemed like another eternity. 

I stepped outside and consumed my barely warm beverage while soaking up the sunshine and hoping the vitamin D would jump start my motivation for the day. Back inside I made a couple of telephone calls and completed some paperwork before DH came in showed me the cause of our lawn mower problems - a broken clutch cable.  Onto the internet in search of a parts diagram for a tractor that is almost 20 years old; diagram found, two more phone calls and the appropriate cable located within 15 miles, DH was off.  Working around a five-month-old's schedule is interesting while trying to complete the lengthy list of regular spring projects let alone those added to the list when one acquires several dozen rabbits.  I took advantage of his morning snooze to return a couple of emails and post some long overdue photos to facebook.  Mid-phone conversation and mid-photo posting a blood curdling scream came from the other room.  I was out of my chair and across the house before I realized I had been extremely rude to the woman I was talking to in order to check on the well-being of the little man.  He was COMPLETELY fine.  He decided that he had enough of the crib and Mom was not paying him sufficient attention.  I didn't think that they learned this trick until they were much older - I was wrong.

DH returned with the cable and we went outside - all three of us - to try and install it.  Not so efficient, but funny.  Try holding a baby, holding a wrench, balancing yourself and the baby while leaning into the mechanical workings of a lawn tractor and not knocking over the tractor, falling onto DH who was working underneath or dropping the kid.  America's Funniest Home Videos would have had a good one if a video camera had been nearby.

At the end of my day on the farm (before I had to get ready for my off farm occupation), only one flower bed got weeded and a little bit of paperwork got done, the lawn tractor still has no clutch or brakes - but it runs, seeds are not planted, and the rabbit shed is not finished; but the rabbits, chickens, cats, dog and people are fed and watered, the sun was out, and Mom got to spend some great quality time with her little man over peas and turkey and backyard chickens.