All posts by Erin

What have we been up to?

… or what have we NOT?  (That might be a shorter list)

Here’s a short photo-tour of the happenings this spring:

First bunny harvest.
We lay in the foundation for a workshop and covered meeting space.
EPIC work party installs vast amounts of fencing.
We get a transformer box to go with our power, with our very own Lightning Guy.
Our new building takes shape.
A cow-watering solution that works for longer than three days without rain! There was great rejoicing.
Bacon seeds arrive. So cute!
Fencing runs to the greenhouse, preventing the goats from eating all the rhubarb leaves (argh!), and allowing us to put in a garden. And have a place to eat lunch without being mugged by chickens or goats. Again, Much Rejoicing!
A duck, with Too Many Legs. (ok, so they’re baby ducks. SO CUTE.)
Baby ducks got older.
WE FIXED THE POND!!! I hope to write in depth about this later.  It was pretty simple to do, and involved cow poop.
Canela had a baby! This is Zeus, born over Easter. He’s a couple of months old in this picture.


That’s it, pretty much.  We’re growing bunnies, ducklings, piglets, and a calf, besides our regular posse of children.  Babies all over!

Rabbit experiment

We are experimenting with rabbits.  We bought two lovely does from a friend near Nanaimo last spring, and have been alternatively smothering them with fresh grass and attention, and ignoring them completely.

They survived, thankfully.
They survived, thankfully.

At last, in November, they were old enough to breed, and we acquired a lovely enormous meaty white buck to introduce them to.

A month later, BUNNIES!!


We keep them at the farm, but a storm soaked our bunny cage, so we had to bring them home to dry out.

The kids had a great time decorating them.
The kids had a great time decorating them.
The eventual fate of the babies was a hot topic of discussion.
The eventual fate of the babies was a hot topic of discussion.

We currently keep the rabbits in hanging cages, which is a standard way of doing it, but not our ultimate goal.  We hope to form a rabbit colony, in a large enclosed space, that will allow happy cage-free (or cage-limited) foraging for 5-6 adult rabbits and their not-yet-weaned offspring.  Once the babies are weaned, we’ll have another space where they can get fat on grass, garden goodies, and a few pellets if they feel the need.

To that end, we took a 40’x40′ space, and laid galvanized stucco mesh on the ground.

So much poky wire!
So much poky wire!

And then, we covered it in soil.

Hurrah, Jasmine's Big Truck!
Hurrah, Jasmine’s Big Truck!

We’re going to fence it into 6 or 7 small pastures, with a home space on one edge that the rabbits will always have access to.  Each pasture will be available for 4-6 days, and then the next pasture will open.  We hope that we can make the plantings lush and abundant, and the rabbits won’t eat everything down to nubbins immediately.  The plantings are mostly planned – next, we move the rabbits’ hanging cage contraption out, run the internal fencing, plant, make some little shelters and nesting areas, and wait for it to grow in.

Rabbit paradise, or a predator gorefest.. we’ll see!

A Gift

We were gifted with a deer on Friday, whole and complete, and of course we accepted.

Oh deer!

We were pretty sure that it would be a lot of work, and a lot of learning.  It was a little easier than we thought, figuring out what to do – the internet helps, of course, but we found that by paying attention to what we were doing we could tell more or less what had to happen next.  Everything took longer than we thought it would, but that’s pretty normal for us.


The guts were surprisingly colourful.  We saved them, so the kids could see them (and then wished we hadn’t.  Stinky!)

Beautiful stinky guts
Beautiful stinky guts

We hung her overnight in a cold, safe place, then skinned her over the course of the afternoon.

deer04   deer06


From early evening until early into the morning, Jeremy butchered.

The next day, we scraped the skin, and salted it.  We plan to tan it when we have skins in sufficient quantity, and until then, the freezer.

It was beautiful, and yucky, and amazing.  We ate venison for dinner, and breakfast, and again for dinner.  Curried venison is delicious, and we may eat ribs this week.
What a gift.

Chickens are Delightful

When we embarked on this adventure, I knew that we were going to have animals, but I had no idea which ones I would like.  Ducks?  Goats?  Cows?  Chickens?  I had no idea.  And I do like them all, but nothing beats chickens for bringing a space to life with efficient, effective work.  Really.  If anyone wants anything scratched around, just throw a handful of chicken scratch on it, and it’s done.  Poop on the floor of the chicken house?  Scratch it into the deep litter.  Barn litter needs fluffing?  Chicken scratch.  Cows pooping on the field?  Chickens will peck out the yummy larva, and scratch the bejeezus out of it (ALL the bejeezus.  There is NONE LEFT.)

Chickens, on their first day here.

Initially, we planned to make a temporary chicken coop and then over the course of a week or so, butcher all the chickens.  As soon as they arrived, however, they started laying a BAJILLION eggs, and very quickly paid for their feed and the meagre price of acquisition ($2/ea).  With eggs like that, chicken soup started to look less appealing.

Sometimes it amuses me to picture the chickens as tiny velociraptors.  Especially as they steal bits of my lunch, or swarm towards me when I call them in for food.  If they knew that it was what I wanted, they’d probably do headstands for cheese.  They adore leftover scrambled egg, and I imagine their chickeny brains saying, “WOW!  This is exactly what I need to make eggs!!”.  The chickens are only slightly skittish, and are very food-motivated, and it’s lovely watching them out muttering to each other, singing their morning egg song, and doing their busy chickeny stuff.

Our chickens come from a more production-oriented organic farm to the west of us, which fed chickens well but for management reasons kept them inside.  Initially, fearing the twofold doom of all-chickens-eaten-by-predators and chicken-poop-everywhere, I started building them an outside run.  I thought it would take a day to get it put together, but stopping every thirty seconds to help kids do things really makes one’s work take longer.  On the morning of the second day, hearing the chickens muttering about their inadequate inside space and looking at the beautiful green stuff outside in need of scratching, I shrugged my shoulders and let them out.  It’s been at least two months, and we have lost one chicken to ?exposure?, but otherwise have our full compliment.  And though we do have a  fair amount of chicken poop, it mostly goes on places that could use a bit of chicken fertility.

Happy outside chickens, scratching in the broom
Happy outside chickens, scratching under the broom

The problems with free-ranging chickens do not end with the aforementioned twofold doom, however.  If we want our chickens to earn their keep in non-scratching ways, we have to be able to find their eggs.  Despite their ample compliment of nesting spots in the coop, our chickens find creative spots to keep their eggs.  For a little while, their preferred spot was inside a tent filled with hay.

Giant Nest!
Giant Nest!

This made finding eggs relatively easy.  Once the tent was emptied, the chickens found a lovely spot in the straw inside our hay shelter.  We assumed that the expected winter laying slowdown was upon us, and resigned ourselves to fewer delicious chicken-presents, until someone noticed that there were eggs on the floor of the shelter, and that there were so many eggs in a little cubby in the hay that the chickens could no longer fit inside.  Now, laying has slowed again, and we’re wondering where the eggs will pile up next.

Our rooster, named Cocktail by one of the kids, is a bit of a sorry beast.  He roosters most diligently:  he watches for predators, takes care of the hens, and makes sure that there’s some fertilized eggs in the mix.  His tailfeathers were all pecked out by the hens at his previous home, though, and have not grown back despite a serious reduction in pecking.  About a week ago, I crept with a flashlight into the coop and slathered his poor red bottom in Bag Balm (recommended by our Cow Mentor), and today I saw little poky pinfeathers coming out.  Perhaps in a month or so he’ll have a glorious tail, but here’s what he looks like now:

Perhaps in a month or so, he'll have a glorious tail again, but here's what he looks like now.

The kids have been naming the chickens, and I have no clue who “Blueberry” or “Glorious” are, or any of a number of other names that have been given.  ‘Cocktail’ and ‘Featherless’ I remember, due to roosterness or descriptiveness, but the others are all Little Brown Hens.  The kids have asked that, if we end up eating any chickens, we eat Glorious first because she pecks people and steals lunches, so we’ll see how that turns out.

So far, despite our plans, we have yet to eat a single one.

Summer in pictures.

Summer has been very, very busy.  I write something in my head, and before I have a chance to sit and write it out, something else happens that is Even Better, and causes the previous thing to be uninteresting.  Right now, chickens are The Thing, but we’re hoping to get the cows moved in before the end of the month, and maybe ducks next week.  Goats need to be here before the end of the month.  And everything takes longer than we expect, and requires at least twice as much talking as we anticipate, but the things we do are so much better together than they would be if we were making decisions individually.  Here’s a few pictures of what’s happened over the summer:

Roger Hodgkins cutting the hay
Roger Hodgkins cutting the hay – our first crop!
D.A. Smithson and Sons Well Drilling
D.A. Smithson and Sons Well Drilling
Jasmine creates beauty  (and dust) using heavy machinery
Jasmine creates beauty (and dust) using heavy machinery
Outhouse, half done, and plants (thanks, Nanette!)
Outhouse, half done, and shade plants (thanks, Nanette!)
Handwashing station that will wash your feet if you're not careful.
Handwashing station that will wash your feet if you’re not careful.
Jasmine makes amazing roads
Jasmine makes amazing roads
Kids have a play area
Kids have a play area.  Thanks for equipment, Grandma Gail!
Food Digester, before we had CHICKENS.
Food Digester, used a great deal before we had CHICKENS (and before the bear knocked it over).
Our first livestock!
Our first livestock!  Thanks, Ellen and Adrian.  They got out three times, one overnighter, but we’ve still got both.
Cistern.  Now if we could get electricity, we'd have water!
Cistern. Now if we could get electricity, we’d have water!
The Transition House, knocked together to house chickens until we have something better.
The Transition House, knocked together inside the ‘barn’ to house chickens until we have something better.  I used your fancy tool belt, Uncle Rod, but still managed to drop a hammer on Tony’s head.
CHICKENS!!!  They have already earned their purchase/feeding in eggs, took less than a week.
An Actual Haystack, hay scythed by Sweaty People because it was faster than weedwacking.
An Actual Haystack, hay scythed by Sweaty People because it ended up being faster/quieter/more-fun than weedwacking.


And now, I think you’re mostly caught up.  We are having Such A Good Time.

Heavy Machinery Makes Things Go

We’ve had the marvelous and adept Jasmine at our farm, for the past little while, and she drives Big Machinery.

She made us a road!
She made us a road!

Jasmine has scraped away the two inches of soil on top of the driest and least living part of our farm, so we can use the space for materials storage and parking.  She built an earth berm, filled with brush and old wood, so we have a bit of privacy and delineation (dogwalkers like to know where to go, and we made a nice path) in the short term and a decent place to grow things (hugelkultur!) after a wet winter.  We had our containers delivered, on to cement blocks on top of carefully leveled (by Jasmine) gravel.  Of course, the containers weigh an average of 15,000 lbs apiece, and so they crushed the cement blocks immediately and settled comfortably on the gravel.  Due to Jasmine’s expert leveling job, we didn’t need to do any adjustments to the ad-hoc, not quite-as-planned delivery.

Containers, snuggled into gravel behind the berm.
Containers, from the outside, snuggled into gravel behind the berm.
And from the front!
And from the front!

We’re planning to make a roof between them, for a workshop space and materials storage.  Solar panels on the roof, though that plan is still developing and may change.

Having some heavy machinery on site definitely makes things go faster.  We’ve discovered that the bottom-most field, where there isn’t much growing but trailing blackberries, patchy grass, and alders, was used as a dump site for excess rocks and gravel.  “Lots of road-base!”, declared Jasmine happily.

We’ve got a second berm underway, and a proto-goat-yard.  We’ve planned two minimalist access roads (though no road is minimalist with Jasmine around – she has to make sure it’s level, and won’t get potholey or mucky, and probably has to dig down a meter or so and add some of our newly uncovered road base to make sure it will continue to be a road.  “I’m just returning the land to what it was, before those developers messed around with it!”, says Jasmine, “And don’t you want it to look nice?  How about a nice road, here, and clearing out all that brush?”.  She’s an artist with a backhoe, and it’s awfully nice to have her, even if I have to keep convincing her that some of the plants are fine just where they are.

Preserving the Harvest

When we butchered our half-pig, we planned to do some preservation.  Since the internet terrified me into not attempting a cured ham at this time of year (too hot!  and the words “Bone Rot”), we brined it instead.

Attempt at a container, #1
Attempt at a container, #1
Much better!
Much better!

Of course, one should never leave the meaty part out of the brine, and we weighed the ham down with glass jars and left it in the coolest part of the house for a few days.

Several days later, we hauled it out, coated it in a mix of brown sugar, mustard powder, and diluted jam, and cooked it.


Is this the Meat Of Our Doom?  Our handling of the meat was careful, but not exactly foodsafe, and I’m sure that leaving meat in salty water for a few days is not Recommended Practice for germophobic sorts.

I’d feel a little more comfortable if we were doing this in the late fall, with our own pig.  All my Italian ancestors rejoice in the preservation of meat, however, and this delicious ham feels wonderfully completing in my belly.

Tomorrow morning, we try the bacon.

Practice Butchery

We ordered half a pig, and had the option to have it come to us completely un-cut-up.  Since Jeremy had, most astutely, taken a course on butchery from Farmstead Meatsmith, we thought we could take this project on.

It's a Big Pig!
It’s a Big Pig!
Primary Sous-chef enjoys the idea of MEAT.
Primary Sous-chef enjoys the idea of MEAT.

Over the next eight hours, we butchered this lovely pig.  Parts went into a seasoned salt mix for bacon, and the ham went into a tub of brine.  We ate the pork chops the next evening, and they were roundly declared the best, juiciest, most tender pork chops in the entire history of food.  We borrowed a meat grinder and sausage stuffer (thanks, Streetbank!), and made sausages the next day.

Gory Stuffer
Gory Stuffer
sausage party!
sausage party!

Making sausages did not at all enable the proliferation of jokes about anatomy, because as adults we are past all that adolescent nonsense.

Home butchery filled our freezer without completely draining our pocketbook, and the work felt good and soul-nourishing.  We will definitely do this again.

(though next time, we’ll make sure to have a smoker, and even perhaps one of our own pigs.)

New Sign!

Great Things Are Afoot!

Sometimes it’s so hard to stop doing fun things in order to document them.. but now, we have a new format!

wherein we attempt circus tricks in order to celebrate
wherein we attempt circus tricks in order to celebrate

We painted over our “For Sale” sign in chalkboard paint.  Of course, for the reason enumerated above (also a distinct lack of ladder), we have not yet written on it.  But we will!

Things are ticking along.

The wonderful thing about having lots of people is that when a project is started, it can move ahead very quickly.  The tricky thing about having lots of people is that there is a lot of talking, considering, and (necessary) faffing about to do before projects are started.  From this vantage point, I know that we’ve been doing a lot of work, but it’s mostly been the talking sort of work that, as of yet, has little to show for it.

Here’s some things that have happened, though:  we have a small RV on site, so that kids have a place to play and so that we have a locking place to store tools.  We have done more of the cleaning necessary to make the two existing structures more useful.  We’ve determined where our shipping containers are going to go.  We’ve built a fire pit and had a number of fires.  An hugelkultur earth berm has been started, both to absorb some rotting lumber and to make a nice privacy border on one side.  We’ve had a lot of meetings with Interested People to help us determine some next steps.  We’ve started a fort for the kids, using living alder trees.  More things, I’m sure, but that’s what comes to mind.

All good stuff, and all leading in the direction we want to go.  Decisions happen slowly, but that way we know that they’re good decisions.  Our whole is more than the sum of its parts, and we do good work together.  We’re all looking forward to doing some camping this summer and really sinking our teeth into all the things that we want to get done.