Friday, January 31, 2014

Feathered Friend Friday: Cam The Protector

Welcome to our "Feathered Friend Friday" series. Each Friday I write a post with facts, photos, or stories about our chickens and guineas. If you need to catch up, you'll find all the FFF posts here.

Shortly after moving to our homestead, we decided to get a rooster for our flock. We lived in the city before so only had hens, but being out in the country we wanted a rooster for flock protection and also just because we could! In my opinion, a crowing rooster really makes a homestead so much better.

David teaches music at a rural school with a lot of farm families, so one day he asked his students if anyone had a rooster for sale. The following day, a student brought a young Barred Rock cockerel to school in a pet carrier and he spent all day with David and the kids in the classroom. David brought him home to me that night, and so my love of roosters began.

I know some people have had bad luck with mean roosters, but I'm pleased to say all of my boys are good as long as I know my place and keep my distance. I learned this after Cam began to show signs of aggression towards me when he was about a year old. Anytime I got too close, he would peck at my legs - and peck hard! I learned to respectfully keep my distance, and he has been a gentleman ever since. 

I quickly learned his vocalizations, and can tell if he's calling the girls over for treats or warning them to run for cover because he spots a hawk overhead. It is quite amazing to see him in action and observe how the hens listen to him and respect his command.

He's not a cuddly boy, but that's ok because he is busy taking care of his girls. It works best if I just stand back and let him do the job he was born to do. And he does a great job of protecting the flock. I can safely say we will always have at least one rooster in our flock, and hopefully Cam will be doing his job for many years to come.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Digging In: Visiting A Winery

You may remember our post from earlier in the month about how we decided to dig in and add long-term improvements to our homestead this year. Last week we wrote about visiting a goat farm and today I'd like to share what we learned on our recent trip to a local winery.

Since we have decided to plant a small vineyard this year, we figured it would be wise to get advice from someone experienced to help us decide what types of grapes to plant, where to plant them, and how to set up the vineyard. One of David's fellow teachers at Puxico is the owner of a winery in town called Indian Hills Winery, and earlier this month he invited us out to learn more about grapes and the wine making process.

The winery is located on beautiful land in the country with rolling hills and a nice pond situated on the edge of the vines. We first got a lesson on how to build fences to support the vines and David asked a lot of questions. I tried to pay very close attention but there were a couple of sweet pups following us around and I couldn't help but pet them a little and take some photos!

It turns out they weren't there just to be cute. Martie said that having several dogs in the vineyard is the best solution he has found to prevent deer from munching on his prized vines. We are keeping this in mind since we often see deer on our property and don't want them to be a problem.

Next we got a demonstration on how to prune vines. We headed over to several rows of Concord grapes, which is probably one of the more well-known varieties. Martie isn't too keen on them though because the vines tend to grow wildly each season and are hard to manage.

Before pruning

After pruning

I was surprised at how much is actually cut off in the pruning process, but the majority of the wood produced in the previous season should be removed. This is a necessary step to allow for new growth in the upcoming season and yield a better harvest. Pruning is done when the grapes are dormant, between January and March each year.

After we were well versed on the fencing and pruning of the vines, we went inside the distillery to see how Martie turns all those grapes into wine.

We got a taste of some of the wine in process before any sugar or other additives were mixed in. It was a little dry for my taste as I do like sweeter wines, but it was neat to be able to taste it at this step and see how different it is from the final product.

David asked about how much wine they produce from their vines, and I was surprised to learn that from 1,200 vines they can get anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 bottles of wine per year. Each vine produces about 30 pounds of grapes and it takes around 15 pounds of grapes to make a gallon of wine.

We learned so much and after our visit to the winery felt more confident in purchasing our own grape vines. So we came home and did just that! We have 32 Chambourcin, 8 Marquis, 8 Canadice, and 8 Lakemont vines coming to us this March. Martie has had good luck with his vines ordered from Double A Vineyards so we decided to get our grapes from them as well.

Now we are working on clearing a spot for the vineyard behind our house at the top of the hill. The process of logging our property in 2012 made a mess up there, so we need to clean up the branches then get to work installing our fencing system for the vines to be ready for planting this spring.

I am so excited to be moving forward with our goal of having a small vineyard and glad that we decided to get several different varieties of grapes. The Chambourcin grapes are good for making wine, and the others are perfect for eating off the vines or making jams and jellies. Lakemont grapes even make excellent raisins! I can't wait to have loads of grapes to work with.

Many thanks to Martie for sharing his knowledge with us and answering all of our questions. If you are ever in Southeast Missouri, please do stop by Indian Hills Winery. You will enjoy your visit!  


Monday, January 27, 2014

Orange Danish

David got back home late Saturday night after being at a music education conference for a few days, so I wanted to make him a special welcome home breakfast on Sunday morning. Ever since he was little, one of his favorite things to eat for breakfast is orange flavored cinnamon rolls (he calls them "orange danish"). I hate to buy the prepackaged kind at the store because they have so many preservatives and chemicals in them, so this time I thought I'd make him some homemade orange danish.

Orange Danish
Adapted from GRIT Magazine
Makes 9 rolls

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 t orange zest
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
4 T butter, cold and cut into cubes
3/4 cup milk (I used unsweetened soy milk)
Additional melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon

1) Preheat oven to 450 F. Heat 1/4 cup butter, orange juice, 1/2 cup sugar, and orange zest in a small saucepan until boiling. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 2 minutes. Pour into greased 9-cup muffin tin.
2) Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the cold cubed butter. Add milk and stir until dough follows fork. Knead together and roll dough out into 1/4" thickness.
3) Brush the dough with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Roll as for jelly roll, then cut into 1" slices. Place cut side down on top of orange mixture in muffin tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden.

The best part about these rolls is how the bottoms get so gooey, sticky, and delicious. The rolls cook on top of the orange syrup mixture in the muffin tin so the wonderful orange taste permeates throughout. It's not too strong of a flavor, but just a nice hint of orange so it's a little different from a typical cinnamon roll.

Have you ever tried orange flavored cinnamon rolls?


Friday, January 24, 2014

Feathered Friend Friday: Coop Ventilation

Welcome to our "Feathered Friend Friday" series. Each Friday I write a post with facts, photos, or funny stories about our chickens and guineas. If you need to catch up, you'll find all the Feathered Friend Friday posts here 

Sometimes it can be hard to know if there is adequate ventilation in the chicken coop, but there is one surefire way to tell - your nose. We have been using the deep litter method in our coop for years now and it has always worked out well for us. However, recently the coop has been a little too stinky in the mornings when I let out the chickens. We do have 18 chickens in the coop, so that is a lot of poo overnight! Once I began to detect a hint of ammonia, I knew we did not have enough ventilation and air flow.

To remedy the issue, David got to work with his drill and a 4 1/2" round bit to create ventilation holes at the top of the coop far above the roosts. Placing the ventilation up high ensures that no drafts will hit the chickens while they are roosting overnight.

Instead of just cutting out a large area of the coop, he made lots of these little circles so it would be nearly impossible for potential predators to fit inside. He also stapled some 1/2" hardware cloth on the inside of the coop to cover the holes and keep everything out.

David cut several of these ventilation holes around the top of the coop and they are definitely working because I haven't noticed a smell at all. An added benefit is that they let in extra light. We don't have any windows in the coop (our coop is a transformed garden shed) so it can get dark in there. But now there's a little extra light for us and the chickens. And the circles actually look kind of cute from the outside!

Even though it has been very cold lately (this morning it was 1 degree!) ventilation is still necessary. As long as the chickens stay dry and drafts aren't hitting them directly, they can withstand very cold temperatures. Cutting down the moisture in the coop by adding extra air flow also helps to prevent frostbite because the main culprit in frostbite cases is excess moisture, not cold temperatures.

I think the chickens and our coop kitty, Emma, are enjoying the extra light and the stink-free zone.

How do you add ventilation to your chicken coop?


Shared with Maple Hill Hop 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Spaghetti Squash With Creamy Marinara

David and I are huge lovers of pasta, and since I don't cook meat, we do eat pasta rather frequently. With the start of the new year, I've been trying to cook healthier and lighter foods in an attempt to get my diet back on track. I'm not giving up pasta altogether (that would be crazy!) but I am trying to cook less of it and more of the vegetables we enjoy.

A great way to get our pasta fix without all the calories, carbs, and guilt is spaghetti squash. After roasting, the flesh of this squash is scraped away from the skin and it separates into strands that resemble spaghetti, hence the name spaghetti squash. It can be used just like spaghetti and topped with anything you can dream up. For dinner one night last week, I made spaghetti squash with creamy marinara and it was a big hit! It even reheated well for lunch the next day, which is perfect because we had plenty of leftovers.

Spaghetti Squash with Creamy Marinara
Serves 4-6

3-4 lb spaghetti squash
26 oz jar of marinara sauce (this is my current favorite)
4 oz goat cheese, softened
Pinch of dried oregano

Cook the spaghetti squash and remove the flesh using a fork (great tutorial here). While the squash is cooking, heat the marinara in a saucepan. Stir in the goat cheese and warm through until melted and incorporated into the marinara sauce (cream cheese or this dairy-free cream cheese also work well).

Place the spaghetti squash onto a pretty plate and top with lots of the creamy marinara. Add dried oregano to taste and enjoy while warm.

I often make this creamy marinara when I have a small knob of goat cheese leftover after using some in a previous dish, so the amount isn't too specific. Of course the spaghetti squash would be good with just the marinara sauce, but I've found adding in a bit of cheese just takes it over the top and turns a good dish into a great one. Nothing beats the depth of flavor and creaminess that a little goat cheese adds to the marinara.

Have you ever tried spaghetti squash?


Shared with Down Home Blog Hop 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Digging In: Visiting A Goat Farm

Since we decided to really dig in and improve our current homestead, we've been thinking about the new additions we'd like to make in the garden and also in the barnyard. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for goats and think that tiny baby goat kids are just the cutest things ever. I imagined we would keep goats at some point, but sort of pushed it off into the future.

We recently decided why wait? If we want goats, we should get some goats. But we honestly don't know much at all about them, so we searched online for a local goat farm to visit for hands on experience. Our search led us to Itty Bitty Critter Farm which is about a 2 hour drive away. We called the owners and they invited us to visit the farm over the weekend and ask as many questions as we wanted. We ended up spending a bit of time with the owners and the goats this past Saturday and had a blast!

I haven't been around goats at all before, so I was surprised at how friendly and calm they were. I had heard that goats will jump on you and try to eat your clothing, but these girls and boys were so polite and well behaved. I found that they liked to be petted and scratched on the head, so I happily obliged.

David spent a lot of time asking about the proper housing and fencing for the goats. I tried to stay focused and learn as much as possible, but I have to admit, I spent most of my time taking photos and observing (and petting) the sweet girls and boys.

There is one mama to be who is due sometime around March. Her babies are not yet spoken for, so depending on how things work out, we may be able to get some goats this summer.

We've decided on Nigerian Dwarf goats because they are smaller and easier to manage than other standard sized breeds (and also because they are just so adorable). Eventually we'd like to milk them, so we are thinking about getting a couple girls. We still have some planning and deciding to do, but we are going to make our dream of having goats a reality!

If you are in the St. Louis area and interested in goats, we highly recommend Itty Bitty Critter Farm. The owners are very knowledgeable and willing to answer any questions you may have. They take such good care of their goats and you can tell the girls and boys are well loved and spoiled. Many thanks to Sandra and Gary for being such great hosts and educators. If you take a visit there, let them know we sent you!


Shared with Maple Hill Hop 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Feathered Friend Friday: Good Morning Chickies

Welcome to our "Feathered Friend Friday" series. Each Friday I write a post with interesting facts, photos, or funny stories about our chickens and guineas. If you need to catch up, you'll find all the Feathered Friend Friday posts here

I just love my morning routine. The best part of it is when I get to let the chickens out for the day. I can hear them grumbling and complaining as I reach the coop because they don't like to be locked up for even one minute after the first light.

When I open up the big coop door, I get out of the way lest I'm trampled by the eager hens waiting impatiently just on the other side. The sight of my happy chickens makes me so happy that I can't help but greet them with a joyful "good morning."

The chickens can't wait to come out, and the guineas can't wait to get in and eat some of their food. And yes, that is Emma at the end of the video! She sleeps in the chicken coop each night now. Adding to my belief that she truly thinks she is a chicken herself.

Some mornings I have special treats for the chickens, and this morning it was the remnants of a spaghetti squash from our dinner last night (check back next week for the recipe!). I thought they'd enjoy pecking and pulling at the last remaining strands of squash, and I was right.

Of course I couldn't leave out Duchess. I always save my peanut butter jars when I'm done with them so she can lick out the last bits at the bottom that I couldn't get to. A dog with peanut butter is a happy dog!

We've been keeping chickens for over four years now, so this has been my morning routine for quite a while. I wouldn't have it any other way!


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Kitten Antics

If you've ever had a kitten, you know how funny they are. Gizmo is pretty much a constant source of entertainment for us around here. He's always doing something to make us laugh and I often find myself calling for David to come look at what Gizmo is up to now.

One thing that cracks us up the most is how he likes to relax. Last night I was doing some work on the computer and looked down to see Gizmo like this.

He stayed that way for a while! I thought he was just being goofy, but apparently it was comfortable. He really likes to stretch out and relax. Sometimes he gets so relaxed he eventually falls asleep.

Of course with Gizmo being a kitten, it's not all relaxation. One of his favorite things to do is jump on top of Jasper when he's taking it easy and minding his own business. They wrestle around for a while then the chase ensues. Jasper is much older (around 8 or 9 years old) so he will only put up with Gizmo for a short while before he's finished playing and runs to a place where Gizmo can't reach him.

Often times this chase will happen in the middle of the night and they love to run across the bed using us as launching pads. We haven't had a night of uninterrupted sleep in quite a while!

Brotherly love.

I also have to be very careful when I'm taking my food photos. I've learned to take my business elsewhere and shut the door so I'm not disturbed by an always hungry and curious Gizmo.

I'm sure he will settle down eventually. I'm trying to enjoy these days because in time he will not be a kitten anymore and I'll miss these days of crazy Gizmo. But I don't think Jasper will miss them one bit!


Monday, January 13, 2014

Honey Sweetened Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Since the start of the new year, David and I have been making a serious effort to be healthier. We indulged a little bit too much during the holidays, so now we are attempting to make up for that by getting active, drinking green juice, cutting out processed sugar, and making all of our meals at home.

We both love sweet treats so I still want to incorporate those into our diet, but make them a bit healthier. Recently I came across a recipe online from Recipe Girl for honey sweetened low fat banana chocolate chip muffins and I knew I had to try them out.

The recipe uses ingredients like applesauce, yogurt, whole wheat flour, and oat flour to lighten up the muffins and make them low fat. Each muffin only has 164 calories and 2.2g of fat, so I don't feel guilty after enjoying one of them.

I've already made these twice, and put some of my latest batch in the freezer to pull out and enjoy for a quick breakfast or snack. I love that the recipe uses honey because since we are expanding our apiary this year, hopefully we can use our own honey soon!

If you are looking for a healthier muffin that doesn't taste healthy and is still sweet and delicious, check out the recipe here.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Feathered Friend Friday: Switcheroo

Welcome to our "Feathered Friend Friday" series. Each Friday I write a post with interesting facts, photos, or funny stories about our chickens and guineas. If you need to catch up, you'll find all the Feathered Friend Friday posts here

Since we were hit with temperatures way below normal earlier this week, we had to figure out how to keep all the animals safe and as warm as possible. We performed a few housing switcheroos with Duchess and Baby staying in the garage, Emma hanging out in the guest room, and our sweet Roosty Roo taking up residence in the guest bathroom.

We kept the chickens tucked away in their coop for a couple days while it was really bad (they didn't want to come out anyway) so we knew we had to separate Cam and Roosty. Cam is our head rooster and he does okay with Roosty as long as they have space, but when they are enclosed together Cam bullies Roosty and chases him into a corner where Roosty cowers in fear.

(FYI - Roosty was a "pullet" we got at the feed store several years ago, but he turned out to be a boy. I couldn't part with him, so we just incorporated him into our main flock and got some more hens so that he and Cam wouldn't fight so bad. This was before we let Ellie hatch out her chicks last spring and got four boys out of the five chicks. These four roosters are in their own free-ranging flock because six roosters together would be way too many).

We didn't want Roosty to have to go through the emotional trauma of hiding from Cam for several days, so we brought him into our guest bathroom. It works really well because we have a corner shower enclosure and we put pine shavings on the floor just like in the chicken coop. When it's time to clean up, we just remove the shavings and hose the shower down. It's actually the perfect setup!

The morning after we brought Roosty inside, we were awakened by his crowing at dawn. It's a little shocking to wake up to a rooster crowing inside your house, but he is the perfect alarm clock because he goes off every few minutes and we can't hit the snooze button on him. A while back our hen, Liliana, was staying in here while recuperating from an injury, and I remember being startled by her "egg song" after she laid her egg each day. The cats went a little crazy, too!

All in all, we had a total of five cats, one dog, and one rooster in the house earlier this week. It was a little crazy, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm living my childhood dream!


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Digging In

Every year around this time, David and I think about what we want our future to look like. We talk about our dreams and goals and make sure we are on the same page. Not surprisingly, most of our future plans revolve around the homestead and moving closer to self-sufficiency.

We've recently been toying with the idea of living in a warmer climate that would allow us to garden year round, so we got down to it and talked about whether this was something we truly wanted. I'm sure the crazy weather we've been having lately spurred this conversation, but ultimately we realized we both are happy where we are right now and decided to dig in and pour all of ourselves into our homestead.

Taking inspiration from other bloggers who come up with a word or phrase for the year, we've decided our phrase for 2014 is "dig in." For us, that means saving as much money as possible and investing it in improving and adding to our homestead. For example, we have plans to expand our apiary from one hive to three, start a small vineyard, plant nut and fruit trees, and improve our current garden space.

This year is all about planning for the future, and we are ready to dig in and add elements to our homestead that aren't necessarily full of instant gratification. It will be years before the grape vines, nut trees, and fruit trees produce for us, but it's ok. We are in it for the long haul.

And really, when waking up to sunrises like this, I'm fine with the wait.

What are your plans for the new year? How would you like your future to look?


Shared with Maple Hill Hop 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lavender Infused Ponderosa Lemonade

Last Monday I wrote a post on the Ponderosa lemons our cousin from Alabama gifted us with this Christmas, and today I'd like to share a delicious drink I mixed up using these gems.

Lavender Infused Ponderosa Lemonade
Adapted from A CUP OF JO
Makes 6-8 servings

1/4 cup local raw honey
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
1T dried lavender
1 cup fresh Ponderosa lemon juice
2 cups water for diluting

For the syrup - in a small saucepan, combine the honey, sugar, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Add dried lavender and steep for 3-4 minutes (or longer for stronger lavender flavor). Pour the syrup through a sieve to strain out the lavender then chill in the fridge.

When the syrup is chilled, combine it with the lemon juice in a pitcher. Mix in 2 cups of water (or more if it's too strong for your taste). Add ice and enjoy!

I wasn't sure how this would turn out since Ponderosa lemons aren't actually true lemons, but I was really happy with the end result. And even though this is definitely more of a summertime drink, it goes great with winter meals, especially the more heavy, rich dishes. We have already polished off the entire first batch of lemonade, so I guess I'll be making some more soon!


Friday, January 3, 2014

Feathered Friend Friday: Dreaming Of Summer

Welcome to our "Feathered Friend Friday" series. Each Friday I write a post with interesting facts, photos, or funny stories about our chickens and guineas. If you need to catch up, you'll find all the Feathered Friend Friday posts here  

As I've heard on the news lately, many of us are currently experiencing bone chilling cold and lots of snow. Thankfully, we don't have tons of snow, but it is a lot colder here than normal. Our forecast has low temperatures below zero for the next upcoming days. I am not built for this kind of weather! The bitter cold has David and me dreaming of living in a region where we can have a garden year round and the temperatures rarely dip to the freezing mark. I do believe the chickens are dreaming of this as well!

For now we are all stuck in the frigid zone, but to transport me to warmer days I thought I would revisit some of my favorite summertime shots of my flock. Perhaps it will warm your bones as well to see some bright green and flowers.

Ahhhh, doesn't that feel nice? One thing I miss the most about summer is all the vivid colors. I just feel instantly energized and inspired when I see beautiful flowers and a vast array of colors. Add in some free ranging chickens with their fluffy butts to the landscape and that is my heaven.

Are you dreaming of summer lately or do you like the cold, snowy weather?


Shared with Maple Hill Hop 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

Happy New Year from all of us at Our Neck of the Woods. We hope 2014 is your best year yet. Thank you so much for your continued support and friendship. We really appreciate it!

~Tammy and David (and Fitz)