First, I gotta say it's shameful how I've neglected my blog of late. I blame that one track mind I talked about two weeks ago. I've been so zeroed in on my homestead, my kiddos, and teaching my Sunday school class that I've neglected my writing. Sorry about that!
This week is a weird one for me. My oldest is on his first ever mission trip. He's in Alabama with his youth group, helping build a church camp. I'm thrilled he got to go, and I'm thrilled his first foray into mission trips is within the US. Still, the house is painfully quiet with his absence. We're a ridiculously close-knit family and all of us are going a little crazy with the separation.
I tell myself it's a good practice run. In three years, he'll be headed off to college, and then he'll be off changing the world. And with Dylan, I have no doubt he'll one day change the world.
With him gone, my other two are stepping up their responsibilities around the farm. It's making me realize just how quickly my kiddos are growing up. I know this is what's it's all about. The point of parenting is to ready them for that moment when they step out on their own.
But why does it have to happen so danged fast? You blink and the silly toddler with dimples for knuckles isn't wrapping his skinny arms around your neck anymore. Instead he's towering over you making cracks about short people.
My husband bemoans my one track mind, but only because it's seldom on the track he wants it on. When something catches my interest, I zero in on it. I study it for hours, days, weeks. I eat, sleep and breathe it. And then, without warning, my attention moves on to the next thing.
In a lot of ways, this has proven to be pretty danged helpful. As a writer, it helps me become a mini-expert in lots of different fields so I can then, in turn, write about them. As a homesteader, it's helped me absorb the vast amounts of information that would normally have been passed down from generation to generation. Granted, I had a certain amount of knowledge from my great grandma, my grandfather, and my parents, but the family farm was no longer a working farm by the time I came along - other than the occasional steer grandpa would raise (and warn me not to get attached to, though to no avail). So most of the things a farmer needs to know, that are handed down from the generation before, weren't there. And there is a lot to know. Life on a farm only looks tranquil from the outside. There's always a new challenge presenting itself.
Anywho, this insatiable yet rotating curiosity has served me well in the homesteading arena. I obsessed about goats for years before we got our first one. Then the hands on experience taught me things the books and internet couldn't. Now, two years after our first goat purchase, our foundation herd is finally in place. I now know exactly what I want to breed towards and what I want for our farm. I've learned more about goats in the past couple of years than I thought possible. I still have lots to learn, but I don't feel lost anymore, either.
The same thing happened with our chickens - it's been three years since our first chicken purchase. It's hard for me to believe now that at the time, I was a little afraid of them; that's why we started with day old chicks instead. (Don't laugh - they have big ol' talons on those feet!) Now, I can't imagine life without my girls. They've taught me so much. It took a few rounds, a whole lot of different breeds passing through, and a bit of trial and error before I got my flock just right.
Ducks, well, that's a funny story. I'd heard duck eggs were hard to incubate, so I set 100 of them. They hatched perfectly, first try, pretty much all of them. We had lots and lots of ducks last summer. I finally got our flock down to two hens and a drake. On their own, they hatched and raised five babies. I've told myself I can only keep one of the five. Getting to the point where I knew what I wanted out of the ducks took months of obsession and a couple years of hands-on figuring it out. (Seeing a pattern here?)
According to my husband, a current conversation with me goes something like, "Bunny. Bunny, bunny, bunny. Rabbit." Yes, my one track mind has turned its attention to rabbits. My experience with rabbits pre-homestead was limited to a pet rabbit my uncle bought me. (Mom was super happy with him for that one.) When my family moved to St. Louis, I had to give him to a meat breeder. I remember being horrified at the prospect and only moderately reassured that he was too old to eat. With meat prices going through the roof and a family of growing boys to feed, I decided it was time to get over that particular aversion. I've had rabbit meat before - it's the getting it from pen to table that takes some fortitude.
(Side note: For me, it's that way with any animal. Giving it an amazing life on the farm and butchering it quickly and painlessly is not only healthier for my family but much kinder to the animal. Buying pre-packaged meat from a chain store is unspeakably cruel to the animal, but a whole lot easier on me because I don't have to see it. Learning the value of the meat on the table has changed our meat portion size to one much closer to what we're supposed to be eating!)
My first foray into meat rabbits didn't go well. Raising them in the hanging wire hutches that are so popular bothers me. I totally get why people raise them that way, but I like for my animals to have grass to graze and a bit of room to roam. I want them to be happy while they're here. So we started with individual hutches and a run for each animal because I've heard horror stories about how much they'd fight. Only problem, the fence kept them in but a crazed cat found its way into the pens and took out my best does. (It really was crazed - it attacked my youngest son without provocation after it got the rabbits. The vet had no idea what got into it.) That left us with a pet rabbit (Peter earned a spot indoors) and a pair of young rabbits outside. One of those young rabbits is a total escape artist. She's all too happy to let me know if there's a way out of her pen. If she wasn't such a lovely color, I think I'd have less patience for her antics than I do. But she taught me a lot and if I have her contained - and I think I do - then we should be in the clear.
I've been researching ideas for rabbit pens like crazy, using all I've learned to do it better next time. I've finally settled on building them a colony setting, so that's the order of the week. The run is completely enclosed by chain link fence with woven wire covering the top and overlapping the sides. They have temporary hutches in their run while I build the rabbit barn, which is gonna be amazing - lots of room for them with dividing sections just in case somebody doesn't get along.
And I finally have a clear picture of what kind and color of rabbits I want. Once I figure that out, it's really hard to not obsess until I get them. I was ridiculously excited to get a doe that seemed like a perfect fit for what I was looking for. She would have been an amazing foundation doe for my herd. Only I made the mistake of trusting the woman who sold her; she was a young mom who said she didn't have time for her son's pet. She asked if we could meet at the local gas station. Big mistake, and I know better. Always see where the animal lives. If I had, I would have probably caught that her living conditions weren't great. The rabbit was here less than a day when she showed the first signs of illness - an illness brought on by stress or poor living conditions. It's highly contagious, so I'm glad I quarantined her. Still, instead of being the cornerstone of my breeding stock, the rabbit gets to be the one who initiates me into the butchering side of things. I was kinda hoping to kick that particular can down the road. (I'm telling you - when my boys are grown, I just might become a vegetarian. I hate that part of it.)
It'll take me a few weeks to sufficiently sanitize my quarantine quarters and to assure myself my other bunnies didn't contract the dreaded snuffles. Maybe by then I'll have recovered from the trauma and I'll be ready to resume my obsession. (Which will be right about the time I have birthday money to spend... my husband should be very afraid...)
We've been busy getting settled into our little farmhouse this past few weeks. Our cabin-dwelling days are officially behind us and our farm is complete. Well, until the next major project rolls along!
The animals are being ridiculously cute these days - probably because they can sense I'm trying to get some writing done. They like to make it difficult to concentrate on anything but them. Usually, there are a thousand and one things needing to be done around the farm. Should there happen to be a lull, it's so tempting to linger in the midst of the animals, to simply be with them. I can't explain what it is about my animals, but I feel more at home in my own skin when I'm surrounded by them. Everyday, I'm thankful God led us to this little corner of the world where I can live and work among my lovely animals. (And where I get to sink my hands in the dirt in my garden - I love sinking my hands in the dirt almost as much as I love being with my crazy beasts.)
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.