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January 2017 Farm Ramblings

I don’t think I’ve ever had such a farm-y January before.  Generally, January is a pretty laid back month.  The calm before the coming storm.  An opportunity to continue resting before our feet hit the ground running.  But not this year.

In the garden:

Call me nuts, but during the warm streak we had in January, I actually went out and did some weeding in my garden.  It was lovely.  I got the last of the odds and ends picked up from the garden – an old rainboot from one of my children, small toys left behind from hanging out with me in the garden, a pair of kid pants (?!?) and some garbage that blew in from the last big wind storm we had.  I took a look at all the weeds and began considering garden layout this year.

Seed inventory was taken and I packaged the last of the saved seeds that I did not have time to take care of last year.

Inside, I began some onion and celery seeds.  They have since sprouted and are doing well, and I will be starting more.  My basement greenhouse was cleaned out and cobwebs knocked off, ready for a deeper clean once I move seeds inside.  Until then, my little seedlings hang out in a mini greenhouse next to my woodstove.

In the barn:

I am waiting for signs to show up as to whether my two dairy does are bred for spring kids.  If they were receptive to my bucks ridiculous woo-ing, we will see kids sometime late March or early April.  While bucks are extremely stinky during the rut, I have to say all of his tongue flapping and silly noises almost make up for the stench.

Next month I plan to separate my chickens into coops based on breed, so I can begin hatching purebred chickens.  The barnyard flock will still be out and about free ranging.

Around the farm:

Maple syruping is our first big “thing” of the year.  Turning sap into syrup requires a hot fire for many hours.  We prepare for this by cutting up bunches and bunches of sticks, branches and small-diameter limbs to feed the fire.  Through the year, I tend to collect thin limbs in a pile, then rip through the pile a couple times per year.  We cut through all of that this month, brought it up to the house, and stacked it in preparation.  It won’t be enough to last too long, but it’s a great start.  We have many downed limbs in our woods still from recent wind storms so I am not too concerned with where to come up with more.

I began scheduling classes this month too, for chicken raising and canning.  Each year I hope to add a new class or two and get a nice, varied schedule set up!  This year I plan to offer scheduled soapmaking classes as well as chicken butchering classes later this summer.

We cut and split firewood early in the month to get us a little further in the season.  We heat our home exclusively with wood and a single wood stove.  Our school room also has a small wood stove, but it is an extra room attached to the house that is technically an enclosed porch or three season room.  We keep the room heated only during the time we are actually in the room.

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In the school room:

We are beginning to set our sights on the end of our homeschooling year.  Some subjects will be done for the year very soon!  Since moving to the farm, it has been difficult for me to find a balance between homeschooling and farming, because both require so much time and effort.  We started our school year last year earlier than the year before in an attempt to ease into a school schedule after having the entire summer off and give us a head start on the books once our “extremely busy” season had ended.  Our last transition from summer break to school was kind of rough, so I wanted to change gears a little less abruptly this school year.  The transition went perfectly (prior to moving to our farm, we homeschooled year-round on a light schedule, so we had a lot of changes with scheduling the past two years we have been here).

We take on a pretty heavy schedule during the winter.  We don’t take time off for breaks with the exception of the week between Christmas and New Years.  I don’t do snow days, but I have been known to do a few “sun days” in the spring.  We do not follow the public school schedule because we want to be done with the bulk of our schooling once the weather breaks and it’s time to prepare and plant the garden beds, brood chicks, play with goat babies, and begin the many projects that farmers have calling their names in the spring.   That is one of the joys of homeschooling.  Here in Michigan, we have that freedom to be able to pick our own schedule.  I am a little more lenient on the littler ones who have a much ligher schedule, but as we try to find that balance, if there is such a thing,  I think we would all agree that hands down, winter time is the best time to really power through our school work.

As it’s looking right now, some subjects (like one kids science and 3 kids’ history) will be done in February.  A few math subjects may be done late Feb/early March.  I am homeschooling 5 of our 7 kids.  The other two are too young.  That means there are 5 math classes to teach each day, 5 grammar classes, 5 different spelling levels to review, etc.  Math and grammar for the big kids will probably be our longest subjects that extend a bit beyond spring planting.

On a different note, we took advantage of the many science lessons that come with butchering animals.  When we butchered our pigs, we dissected a few organs to see how wonderfully God made them!

In the kitchen:

Well, while not exactly a “cooking” topic, my incubators were set with early season eggs.  I wasn’t exactly sure of the outcome considering the weather had been so cold but as of lockdown I have a good percentage that should hatch.  I always, always end up with a brooder in my kitchen every single spring, so I thought this was the most appropriate spot to mention them.  Normally my incubators reside in the kitchen too, but this year I decided to keep them in the basement.

We butchered our pigs – now that’s a kitchen topic!  We had plans of butchering them last fall, but we had a baby and no longer had spare time.  Funny how babies do that to you.  My husband was pretty set on sending them out to be butchered (we have never done pigs before) but I was confident we could do it..  After all, I have processed many deer and the people I have talked to who have butchered their own pigs said it’s not much different than butchering deer.  I was also fond of the idea of being able to handle their slaughter – I felt it’s the least we could do.  My goal for any animal raised on our farm for food, is to keep them here.  If we can’t do our own processing, then I’d need to rethink if we should raise that animal.  I like to think that we owe it to the animal for their slaughter to be humane and respectful, without undue stress or suffering.  I think trailering them out to an unknown place would add stress, and not having any control over their slaughter bothers me a bit. Slaughtering is not really a topic I get giddy over.    Taking a life is never, ever easy.  I can relax and enjoy the butchering process – seeing Gods creation in front of me and being able to see how intricately he designed their bodies, seeing how everything works together, cutting and preparing food we have worked so hard to keep happy and healthy, knowing where our food came from and knowing that it did not suffer – that’s all stuff I deeply appreciate and can find excitement in.

The whole process went without a hitch.  We cured and smoked our own hams and bacon, stuffed and smoked our own smoked sausage, made kielbasa, froze ribs and roasts, made bean and bacon soup as well as ham and bean soup, and have had quite a few feasts already.  We are preparing for a breeding pair of hogs so we can raise more pork.

Around the Home

We were just as busy in the home, washing eggs, updating records, making soap (about 20lbs) from our rendered homegrown lard, making laundry detergent, prepping feed bags for use as weed cover in the garden beds, and dreaming about the coming year.  I can’t wait for open widows, bright sunshine, grassy pastures, clothes hanging on the line!

February is going to be even busier – how are things looking in your neck of the woods this time of year?  I am sure I am forgetting some things!

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