Sparrow's Nest Farm

Share life and laughter with this accidental farmer and her menagerie of misbehaving farm animals. Welcome to our place on the mesa!


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Better late than never

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been over three years since I updated this blog.  I’m full of new determination, however, so I’m hopeful that this time I’ll actually keep the thing going.  I closed out my godaddy website, so I really need to keep an active presence out there somehow.  Maybe this will be it.  Hope springs eternal, and all that…

Anyway, we just recently moved from our well established homestead in Monument, to a new place in Avondale, CO.

porchview

It’s 3500 feet lower in elevation, so winters will be much milder.  I’m thankful for that because I’m old.  Or getting there, anyway.  Six foot snow drifts were no big deal 10 years ago, but trudging through them six months of the year at this point in time is painful.  So, here we are, avoiding harsh winters and baking in the 104 degree heat, and loving every minute of it.

snowdrift

What we aren’t loving are the grasshoppers and mosquitos. (Yes, those are grasshoppers all over my porch)…

grasshoppers

They have invaded our yard; they’ve invaded our pasture, and worst of all, they’ve invaded our garden.  All thoughts of “organic gardening” went out the window with the arrival of the first five thousand.  Even chemical bug spray and powders aren’t keeping them away now.  My strawberries disappeared in one fell swoop.  My peppers are nearly eaten down to stubs, and the little buggers even ate my onions.  Who knew grasshoppers liked onions?  They’re in the tomatoes and green beans and squash, now, too.  I hate them.  Rumor has it this plague of Biblical proportions is unusual around here.  Please, God, let this be true.  They swarm around my legs and try to hop down my shirt every time I step foot outside.  It’s a challenge to get to the barn every day without squealing like a girl.

Oh, and the snakes.  Yikes.  There are lots of them, but so far none of them we’ve found are poisonous.  I did find a five foot long bull snake curled up in my chicken’s nest boxes a few weeks ago.

bullsnake

It stared me in the eye and swallowed an egg before I could even blink.  I’m sad to say, he wasn’t long for this world.  Bull snakes are good, and I know they keep rattlers away, but snakes are not welcome in my chicken coop, no matter how “good” they are.  We’ve seen several more in the barn and pasture since then, but as long as they don’t steal from me, they can live a long, happy life with us and do whatever it is they do that’s so beneficial and whatnot.

I’ve got lots more to share and no time to share it, so I’ll post this for now and hopefully provide more updates in a few hours.  Or tomorrow. Tomorrow would be good.  Have a blessed Sunday!  I hope you’re as happy to see me back here as I am to be here!

 

 

 

 

 


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Bring on the snow!

Snow is on the way this weekend.  Or so they say.  I’ll believe it when I see it, but I do know it’s going to be really cold by tomorrow night, so it’s time to get the animals ready.  The goats in the barn will do fine.  It’s draft free, and they’ll have lots of fresh straw to burrow down in by tomorrow afternoon.  I intended to do it today, but alas, the wheel barrow has a flat tire, and I can’t find the air thingy to air it back up.  Looks like I’ll have to wait for Paul to get home, which is just as well, because then I can put his muscle to good use and let HIM push it.  Darn those flat tires anyway….

Chrysanthemum and Pepper Jack will do fine in their polydome, too.  There’s a thick bed of straw in there, and the sun heats it up during the day.  At night, the heat is released and keeps them nice and warm.  We even added a door to it so we can close it up at night to keep predators out.  The black thing on top is an air vent, and when a storm blows through, all we have to do is turn it (based on wind direction), and it keeps the draft from blowing down on them.

I spent an hour or so this morning getting the chickens ready, too.  We do deep litter in the winter, and it works well (at least with pine shavings…straw was just gross).  I scooped out the top layer under the roosts, then tossed some scratch in there and let the girls stir it around.  Once they finished aerating the bedding, I added a clean layer to the top.  The bottom layer will continue to compost and keep them warm, while the top layer keeps it smelling fresh.  I had my doubts that it would work with 50 chickens in there, but seriously, my coop doesn’t stink at all.

 

Last, but certainly not least, I got the rabbit cages ready for the storm.  We have two nice, large wooden hutches that house four does and two bucks.  The cages are larger than they look in pictures…3 feet wide and 4 feet deep….and each hutch has a large door on the bottom that folds up when the weather is bad to block the wind.

Temps are ehutches2xpected to be around 5 degrees by Sunday, so I added straw to the cages, as well as a nest box stuffed with straw for the rabbits to burrow into.  The straw on the cage floor gets messy, but I remove it once temps are back above freezing.  We’ll close the big doors up once the storm hits, and everyone will stay snug and dry.

 

I’ve done all I can do out there for now, and Murphy is glad because he got really tired of waiting.  Some farm dog he turned out to be.  He’d much rather lay on the couch and snooze than stretch out on the straw and watch me work.  Gotta love him. 


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Double Double Rabbit Trouble

Rabbits were one of the first animals we added to our mini-farm. I did a lot of reading, and based on my research, it seemed like an easy proposition.  Breed them, feed them, freeze them, and eat them.  How hard could it be?

Wow, am I learning things the hard way! Our first three attempts at having baby rabbits were epic failures.  First I decided they must be stressed from moving to their new home, then I figured I didn’t leave the does with the bucks long enough, then I figured the weather was too hot and the bucks were probably sterile.  In reality, I have no clue why the does weren’t conceiving. 

Fast forward a year later, and we’ve had two successful litters from all four does.  It’s hard having babies in the winter since we live at high altitude and temps are dicey at least six months of the year, but if I want more than a litter or two from my girls, we really don’t have a choice.  I bred all four does again in October when the brutal summer temperatures finally turned to fall, but surprise, surprise, I got not one baby out of any of them! 

I’m trying one more time today before I throw up my hands in frustration.  This time I stood and supervised the whole thing to make sure the boys got the job done, and I’m not convinced they did.  Not for lack of trying, of course, but I saw only one successful “fall off the doe sideways and thump the floor in victory” out of either one of them.  The rest of the time it looked more like frantic humping that got them nowhere.  I’m going to give them a break, then put the does back in either tonight or tomorrow and see if things turn out any better.  I’m fairly sure I’ll have one pregnant doe out of the bunch, but I really want those other three bred as well.  If we fail again…well….maybe it’s time to start over with new breeding stock, although none of them are over two years old.  And I’m really rather attached to all of them by now, so I sure hope I can keep them around (productively) a few more years!Image

Ah well, if nothing else, at least I got the cages cleaned out and scrubbed while the girls were off visiting the boys. We’ve got a cold front coming in later in the week, so I’m ready now to add fresh bedding before the freeze.


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Embracing My Inner Redneck

I firmly believe things (and people) eventually come full circle.  We can’t hide who we are indefinitely; it always comes out in the end, and usually when it’s least appropriate.

I’ve spent more than half of my adult life trying to be someone else.  Someone cultured, sophisticated, citified, poised and charming.  I bleached my hair, wore long acrylic fingernails, waxed my eyebrows, and then tottered around in heels and suits that looked classy but hurt like hell. My grandma always warned me that a bad pair of shoes would really mess up my face, but I wore them anyway because I was a “professional” with an “image” to uphold.  I bought an executive home in the suburbs, drove a new SUV with leather seats, and hired a housekeeper and a lawn service to keep up with the routine chores I was just too busy to handle.  I even grocery shopped online during my lunch hour and had the store deliver to my doorstep on weekends so I could continue my pursuit of my next big bonus check without starving my kid to death in the process.  I had it made.  The American dream, Dallas style.

But no more.  You can take the girl out of Oklahoma, but you can’t take Oklahoma out of the girl.  I traded in my corner office for a goat barn and chicken coop, and I’ve never been happier.  My hair color never did quite return to normal, but it’s long now, and worry free. My fingernails are short and dirty, and on a good day, I don’t wear shoes at all.  My Jeep has cloth seats covered in dog hair, and it gets washed every 50,000 miles whether it needs it or not. This is bliss.

My choice of entertainment has changed, too.  Thanks to my brother, I’m now well and truly hooked on Duck Dynasty.  Not because of its outrageous “redneck” humor, but because it reminds me of home.  Facial hair, camouflage, and the occasional spit cup bring back many fond memories, and those southern drawls remind me of just about everyone I ever knew as a kid.  It’s like laughing at family all over again.  And I think it’s rubbing off on me.  Two nights ago, I greeted the pizza delivery gal at my front door, and she immediately said “Oh my God, where are you from???”  Oops.  Sometimes country just slips out.

I watched yet another DD episode last night, and I realized I’d finally made it big, redneck style, when Miss Kay said “In my opinion, you’re not a proper woman if you don’t have a goat or two”.  I hope my husband agrees.  He’s watched my gradual regression from corporate VP into Colorado goat farmer with a smile on his face, and once in awhile he’ll laugh out loud…usually when I come in from the barn with straw in my hair, milk on my jeans, and Murphy-drool drying on the side of my neck.  Sometimes I worry that he thinks I’ve gone too far.  Embracing mud and muck is one thing, but laughing at bathroom humor is another.  I can’t help it.  I think it’s funny.  He doesn’t.

One thing I do know for sure is this:  He loves me just like I am, devoid of makeup with braids in my hair, shaking bits of alfalfa out of my bra as I leave the barn.  He’s given me the greatest gift there is – the ability to be who I really am and enjoy life without worrying or caring what people think.  There’s tremendous freedom in this modest, country lifestyle, and I’m thankful beyond words to be living it with him.


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Rendering Lard

Some day when I grow up, I want to raise my own pork here on Sparrow’s Nest Farm.  For now, though, we’re still learning the ropes with our chickens, rabbits, sheep and goats, so the pigs will have to wait another year or so.  I’m fortunate enough, however, to have farmer friends, and the folks at Easter Egg Acres in Ellicott were kind enough to raise a couple for us this year.  We picked them up last week, and I can honestly say the meat is delicious, and much healthier than factory-raised pork.

When the pig was processed, we had the option of keeping or disposing of the fat.  I’d heard people talk about making their own lard out of the fat, so I figured I’d give it a try.  It didn’t sound terribly hard, and it actually wasn’t.  I will say, though, that rendering lard will never go to the top of my “Favorite Things To Do” list because it’s time-consuming, and I’m not known for my patience.

The fat from each pig was separated into two bags.  The smaller bag, weighing about 5.5 pounds, consisted of what my father in law calls “Leaf Lard”.  At 93 years old, he’s seen a lot of pork fat in his day, and the leaf lard is the purest fat that comes from around the kidney and stomach area of the pig.  It’s cleaner and less “piggy” than the back fat, more commonly known as “fatback”.  As you can see, the fat was clean and cut into long strips, which made it easy to process.

 

I started by cutting the fat into half-inch chunks so it would melt faster (actually my husband did it so I could take his picture).  With a good sharp knife, this took very little time.  He started by cutting each strip into narrower strips, then dicing it into smaller pieces.

 

 

After he finished, I put the chunks into my crock pot, turned it on low, and prepared to wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Finally I turned it up to high and kept waiting.  Next time I’m going to try putting it all into a large pot on the stove and setting the heat on low to see if melts faster.  Some folks also  put it in the oven on low heat and leave it all day.  I may try that as well and see which method I like best.  The trick is to keep the heat low enough that the cracklings don’t start to fry and darken the lard.

Several hours later, the fat was starting to melt down nicely.  You can see from this picture that a large portion of it has melted already, but it’s still not at the stage where just the cracklings are left.

I’m guessing it took a good 10 to 12 hours for all the fat to finally melt down where I could strain it.  Once it was ready, I took a small strainer, lined it with an old piece of cheesecloth, then strained it into a clean bowl.

I then poured the strained liquid into quart jars and let them sit on the counter overnight to cool.  The liquid fat had a yellowish/golden color to it.

Once it cooled overnight, though, the end result was pure white leaf lard that will be excellent for making biscuits, pie crusts, and other baked goods.  Assuming, of course, that I ever decide to bake.  Anyway, you can see how beautifully this first batch of lard turned out.

 

When all was said and done, I had processed approximately 11 pounds (two bags) of fat and ended up with a little over a gallon of lard for my efforts.  It took a full two days, but it wasn’t difficult (although the house did smell a little “piggy” during the melting process).   I had a bunch of cracklings left over after the fat was processed, and many people told me how good these are fried hard and salted.  I tried it, but I have to say I wasn’t a fan.  They were far too greasy for my taste, and they had any “airy” texture that didn’t appeal to me at all.  My chickens, however, loved them!

A few final thoughts before I go….You may be wondering why on earth anyone would want to cook with lard.  It’s probably a matter of taste, but I can tell you that lard is much healthier than any store-bought shortening.  It has no hydrogenated fats, or trans-fats or anything of those other processed fats that negatively impact our cholesterol, and for me, this is a big deal.

I still have approximately 30 pounds or more of fatback to render when I have the time and nothing else more interesting to do.  For now it’s in the freezer, where it will last a good long time.  From what I hear, the lard rendered from the fatback will not be quite as white, but it’s perfect for cooking and frying chicken.  With the fat from two pigs, we’ll have more than enough lard to last us all year…possibly longer, so I’m canning it as I go and storing it downstairs in my root cellar.  It’s easy enough to do.  Just put the quart jars into a water bath canner and process for 15 minutes (30 minutes at high altitude).  Voila’, now it will last indefinitely!


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Homemade face cream

I’ve been trying for months to come up with a homemade face cream recipe that actually feels like face cream, and I think I finally did it.   It’s quick, easy, and very inexpensive when you consider the sky-high price of store-bought night cream.  Even the cheap ones are at least $15 a jar.  I just don’t want to pay that much anymore.

Today’s recipe used only three ingredients:  Shea butter, coconut oil, and tea tree oil.  All of these were purchased at Vitamin Cottage for less than $20 and will make several jars of face cream before they’re gone.

I used a clean glass measuring cup to mix the ingredients:  3 Tablespoons of shea butter, 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, and a few drops of tea tree oil (I started to count them, but they came out too fast…oops).

I blended all the ingredients together, then scraped the whole mess into a clean Oil Of Olay night cream jar since it was about the right size.  It looks a tad on the oily side, but I tried some out on the back of my hand, and it really isn’t.

I think this is going to be much better than the last batch I made.  Instead of using coconut oil, I tried using jojoba oil since it’s such a lightweight oil that is quickly absorbed.  Unfortunately, the jojoba oil did nothing to soften the shea butter, and trying to spread it on my face was difficult and downright painful.  Shea butter by itself is very thick, and almost waxy.  The coconut oil really breaks it up and gives it a creamy consistency that makes it easy to use.

I’m going to give it a try tonight and see how I like it.  Wish me luck!


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Happy Birthday, Murphy!

Somehow it seems fitting that my very first post about farm life should focus on my pup, Murphy.  Murphy is a year old today, and true to form, he has made the occasion memorable.  Murphy (aka “BooBoo”) loves balls.  He has tennis balls, heavy duty canvas balls, and his favorite big blue plastic ball that has a smaller yellow ball inside it.  He rolls that thing all over the house, gleefully picking it up in his teeth and tossing it into the air, only to chase it madly across the room where he usually ends up sliding into the wall because he can’t stop in time.  (Side note…Murphy is 125 pounds of Italian Mastiff.  He doesn’t play quietly).

This morning was more of the same.  Toss the ball, chase the ball, skid into the wall.  But at one point, he started following me around the house with the ball in his mouth.  After an hour of me telling him “Not now, go play”, I finally reached down to take the ball away from him, only to find that it was well and truly stuck.  Somehow the silly mutt wedged the entire bottom half of his mouth into one of the big holes in the ball, and he couldn’t let go.  I called my neighbor to come help me while I held him down, but we had no luck, so we loaded him into the car and raced to the vet clinic.  I was starting to panic by this point because he was panting and seemed to be having trouble breathing.

When we got to the clinic, Murphy was the center of attention as everyone came out to see the big mastiff with the ball stuck on his face.  They took pictures, they laughed, and they commiserated with him, all the while trying to get him sedated and comfortable enough to tolerate their hands in his mouth.  Fifteen minutes and lots of whimpering later, the ball finally popped off and the whole place erupted in cheers.  Murphy is now on their Wall of Fame, as this “injury” was nothing they’d ever seen, nor will likely ever see again.

We’re home now, and BooBoo is dead to the world sleeping off the medication they gave him.  The ball went into the trash at the vet clinic and will never be seen again except in the picture I took to memorialize the occasion.  Just look at this face….isn’t it pitiful?