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Archive for the ‘Homesteading’ Category

postheadericon Small Livestock for Small Spaces

Urban and small space homesteaders are learning they don’t have to limit themselves to plants in their endeavors to be self-sufficient. With the rising popularity of small livestock who are thriftier and multi-purposed, it is becoming more common to find chickens or even goats in backyards as well as barnyards.

 

Finding the right small livestock for small spaces doesn’t have to be hard. Match your needs and goals with the right animals and everyone wins.

Red Barn Blue Skies Small Animals for Small Spaces redbarnblueskies.com

Small Livestock

If you’re considering adding animals to your homesteading project or you just want some smaller livestock to work with, here are some suggestions that may suit your needs.

Chickens

Chickens are the obvious first choice when it comes to livestock that can be kept in a smaller area. They’re the most popular and the easiest animal to get started with. And as we’ve discussed before, they are the gateway livestock for new farmers.

 

Before you even go look at the chicks at the feed store, determine what you want them for. Are you after daily eggs and a chicken in the pot for every Sunday dinner? Then you’ll want a breed like the Plymouth Barred Rock. They’re multi-purpose birds bred for heavy egg production combined with a tasty, meaty carcass.

Plymouth Barred Rock Red Barn Blue Skies Small Animals for Small Spaces

If you’re wanting to fill your freezer fast with great tasting chicken, raise a bunch of Cornish cross meat chickens. They’re bred to bulk up fast and provide a meaty 4-pound broiler carcass in only 7-8 weeks.

 

If you’re wanting a fluffy piece of yard art that wanders around your garden for comic relief, you might look at some of the exotic breeds such as a Cochin or Polish hen. Figuring out why you want chickens can help you choose the right breed or breeds for you.

 

Although the breeds are all different, the basic care is the same. They need food, water, shelter, and a place to lay their eggs. While the food and water stay the same, you can be as simple or elaborate as you like with the shelter and nest box areas. As long as the chickens have a safe, dry, draft-free area to roost at night, they’ll be content.

Goat Trio at Red Barn Blue Skies Small Animals for Small Spaces redbarnblueskies.com

 

Goats

Goats are available in many breeds and come in full sizes and miniatures. Which breed or size you choose should depend on many factors. These include but aren’t limited to:

 

     ~ Available space – As with everything else, smaller animals require less space (and feed). If you are very limited in the area you can allot to goats, you may consider some of the minis. Several of the breeds are heavy milk producers in spite of their petite size.

     ~ Purpose – Goats have been used for multiple purposes over the centuries. Milk, meat, fiber, and hide are the physical resources they provide. The different breeds have been designed to excel in one or more of these aspects. Goats are also tasked with pulling carts, carrying packs, and being used for weed abatement and control. They are a multi-purpose creature that can definitely pay their own way.

     ~ Containment – Goats are notorious escape artists. Until you are prepared with a securely fenced area to house them, you might want to reconsider goats – large or small. They will get out and wander the neighborhood, leaving destruction in their path. Your neighbors won’t appreciate your goats eating their rosebushes and patio chairs.

     ~ Time – With their extremely high intelligence level, goats need attention and stimulation. They love company and get bored easily. Plan on spending quality time with your goats. It is well worth it as they are very affectionate and entertaining animals.

Quail at Red Barn Blue Skies Small Animals for Small Spaces redbarnblueskies.com

Quail

Aside from their beauty and compact size, quail are another type of poultry that can be a delight to have. They are industrious little birds that lay eggs on a regular, daily basis – more routinely than chickens. Of course, their eggs are on the small size, but they make up for that in quantity. Pickled quail eggs are a true delight that everyone should try at least once.

 

Quail are easy to care for and have very basic needs. Compared to chickens which need 3-4 square feet each, quail only require one. They can be kept in hutches up off the ground, similar to those of rabbits. They can also be kept in pens or coops, but not in with the chickens. Chickens carry diseases that can be deadly to quail. As long as they are in pens that are separated by at least several feet, they will be fine.

 

 

One thing that most beginning quail keepers aren’t ready for is how violent quail can be toward each other. The males can over breed and scalp the females if there isn’t a large enough girl to boy ratio or a large enough space to provide escape routes. The males become quite aggressive and can kill or seriously wound the other birds if not monitored and allowed room to roam. Provide lots of hiding places, overturned flower pots are ideal.

 

Because the quail are so fertile and prolific, they are an economical and even profitable source of meat and eggs. Selling quail eggs and meat to fancy restaurants is something to consider if you are looking into raising them on a larger scale.

Rabbit at Red Barn Blue Skies Small Animals for Small Spaces redbarnblueskies.com

Rabbits

Rabbits have always been a popular choice for those with limited space, in the city or the country. They can be kept in hutches, pens, and even in your backyard running around on the lawn. It is easy to keep their pens clean. Their droppings (pellets) are great for fertilizing your garden as they’re not “hot” like chicken manure. Their diet is simple with a heavy emphasis on greens. Which rabbits you decide to raise will depend on what your goal is – breeding, fur, or meat.

 

Most rabbit breeds are known for having large litters so they tend to be a good investment that multiplies quickly. You must keep a close eye on the mothers/does, especially if it is their first litter, as rabbits can be cannibalistic and eat their young. Keeping them as stress-free as possible will help deter this, but it can be an issue with some breeds or individual rabbits.

 

Because rabbits are a great project for beginners, they are a top choice for 4-H and FFA members just getting started. They are an easy to handle type of small livestock and non-threatening for young children. They’re an easy animal to get into financially as there are not a lot of large expenses initially and the returns can be considerable in a short amount of time.

 

So do you have small livestock? What kind of animals do you prefer?

Stock up for the New Year at Tractor Supply! Apparel, Feed, Fencing, and more. Shop Now!

postheadericon How to Avoid a Canning Catastrophe

Each of us has some type of family tradition that we’ve passed down through the generations. It might be a song we sing for birthdays, a bible we record significant events in, or special cookies that only family members are allowed to know the recipe for.

How to Avoid a Canning Catastrophe at Red Barn Blue Skies

Canning and “putting up food” is one of those traditions that we need to tread carefully around. Just because “Grandma did it this way”, it doesn’t mean it is the best or the safest. When canning, we need to do everything we can to avoid a canning catastrophe. Maybe no one got sick or died after eating Grandma’s home-canned foods, but that still doesn’t mean it was safe. It may have just been luck.

 

So let’s buck tradition and steer away from some of the preserving methods that could actually kill us. We can still honor Grandma, we’ll just do it in a safer way.

What Can Cause a Canning Catastrophe?

Creativity and Changing Recipes

Creativity is great, but not when it comes to canning your own food. Adding your own touches to a recipe can be unsafe, causing sickness and even death from botulism. Follow the tested recipe.

The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is full of recipes that are delicious and varied. Each has been thoroughly tested and retested over the years as technologies progress. Decades ago, Grandma probably took some of her recipes straight from this book or one of printed by the other canning supply companies.

The ingredients, measurements, and processing directions should be followed precisely for each recipe. They are carefully designed to reach the right acidity levels and temperatures to ensure a safe product.

If you really want to show off your creativity, go wild decorating the finished, processed jar. There are multitudes of ways to beautify the jar and showcase the contents without risking anyone’s health.

Using the Wrong Method

Beginning canners are often confused by the various ways of canning food. It is highly important to match the proper method with the type of food being preserved. The ingredients determine the mixture’s acidity which then determines how it is to be canned.

 

~   The boiling water bath method is appropriate for acidic foods such as fruits, pickles, and preserves. Certain types of tomatoes can also be preserved this way.

 

~   Non-acidic ingredients such as unpickled meats, soup/stock, or vegetables require a steam pressure canner.

 

~   Oven canning is not a safe way to can any foods. The jars and their ingredients don’t reach high enough temperatures to kill any bacteria that might be present.

 

~   Cold process pickles are a popular treat. The key to safely using them is that they must be refrigerated as soon as they’re processed. They must then be used up within three months.

Garden Produce at Red Barn Blue Skies Canning Catastrophe

Pick a Perfect Pear

Don’t use questionable produce or ingredients. By using blemished, expired, or inferior ingredients, you affect more than just the taste. The appearance and safety of your finished product can be at risk. You don’t want to add bacteria or mold from a piece of bad fruit to your mix. Only use the best to produce the best.

Incorrect or Inferior Supplies

Only use jars made for canning. Recycled mayonnaise or pickle jars from the market are made with a different glass than canning jars. Small imperfections that aren’t visible to the naked eye can become a huge problem during processing. They can cause breakage, leaks, or even dangerous explosions.

Be sure to inspect EVERY jar you use, even canning jars. Toss cracked or chipped jars. They won’t form a tight seal and could break.

Don’t reuse your canning lids for processing. Unless they are the special reusable ceramic lids with rubber gaskets, they are designed for only one go-round of canning. Your rings can be used indefinitely as long as they remain undamaged.

Old Canning Jars at Red Barn Blue Skies for Canning Catastrophe

Not Following the Rules

Don’t let what appears to be too many canning rules scare you off. As long as you follow the directions, you’ll be fine. Here are a few more things to keep in mind:

 

~   Altitude affects your canning settings just as it does when baking. When water bath canning, your processing time is adjusted. For the pressure canner, the level of pressure is adjusted based on the altitude.

 

~   Don’t use paraffin wax to seal the jars. Yes, Grandma did it, but she didn’t know that the wax and heat alone might not kill the bacteria present. Mold often grew on top of the wax seals in the jars.

 

~   Air bubbles are an issue in not obtaining a proper and tight seal. Be sure to remove them from the mixture before putting the lid on the jar.

 

~   Preheating the lids by boiling is something that many canners skip. This step isn’t for sterilizing the lids, it is for heating up the rubber seal in order to get a tight grip on the jar. Don’t skip it.

 

~   If a recipe directs you to leave 1/8” or 1/4” headspace, do it. This is to ensure there is enough room for the mixture to expand without overfilling. Be sure to wipe the rim once the jar is filled and before you place the lid on.

Storage Tips

There was a reason Grandma kept her jars of jelly and other goodness in the basement, root cellar, or pantry. She knew that heat and light breaks down the food in the jars over time. The darkness and steady temperatures in these locations helped preserve the food even longer.

Before you even put your jars into storage, be sure that you have cleaned them thoroughly after processing. Many times sticky residue will end up down the sides and around the rings. Clean and dry them properly to keep bugs, mold, and rust from becoming an issue.

Processed Jars at Red Barn Blue Skies for Canning Catastrophe

Give It a Try

Don’t be afraid to try your hand at canning. It really is easy if you follow the rules and the steps as directed. Keep in mind if you’re wanting to use an old recipe, check it against one in one of the canning books or on one of the canning company websites. You’ll end up with a lovely tribute to Grandma as well as some great tasting treats for your pantry or gifts.

Have you ever tried canning? We’d love to hear your stories and any canning tips you have.



postheadericon My Husband is a Dung Beetle

*This post about my husband being a self-proclaimed dung beetle was first published in April 2010. Because it is just as relevant today as it was then, I’ve decided to share it with all of you again. For those of you newer to Red Barn Blue Skies, don’t be alarmed – we’re relatively normal. Enjoy!*

I am married to a dung beetle.

My Husband is a Dung Beetle at Red Barn Blue Skies

First off, let me state for the record that I did not call my beloved hubby this. At breakfast this morning, he announced to Mom and I, “I am the dung beetle of the family.”

While this is not a normal conversation in the majority of homes, it is really not a super surprising one for this group. We obviously aren’t the Cleavers anyway, so let me try to explain this bold statement.

The Dung Beetle

Hubby and I were camping last summer when we came across a funny sight while hiking. I had to stop when I saw something rather strange: it looked like a little turd cruising along the path in front of me.

Upon further investigation, we found that it was a dung beetle with a rolled up ball of poop. He was rolling it uphill and in a very straight path – over pebbles, twigs, whatever. He was a persistent little guy as the ball was about three times his size and it was very unwieldy.

We must have spent about fifteen minutes just watching as this amazing little creature kept to his task. He was the epitome of the saying that “the impossible is possible if you keep at it”. The manure ball would slip and roll back a few inches and he’d just start again on his uphill trek.

Fast Forward to Today

Now, the reason this morning’s breakfast table conversation turned to dung beetles is because we were talking about how ants can carry many times their own weight. We told mom about seeing the little dung beetle at work and Mr. MoonCat Red Barn mentioned that he had done some reading on these fascinating little bugs after our trip.

Hubby’s ENTIRE basis for saying that HE is the dung beetle of OUR family is the fact that the males are the ones who do all the work in dung beetle couples. They usually roll up the ball of poop and move it to wherever the female designates while she directs or even HITCHES A RIDE while he’s working!

If this hadn’t hit me as so funny and of course, inappropriate, I might have decided to be offended. But I chose to laugh my butt off at him. (It’s especially significant today as I “requested” that he move around a bunch of furniture yesterday.)

I did some reading myself on dung beetles and was really amazed to learn how beneficial they are to agriculture.  They can be found on every continent except for Antartica! I had already known (from my dad) not to kill any that we found out in the manure pile at the ranch but really didn’t know why.

I’ve since learned that they help keep down the fly population and thus the spread of disease in livestock. They make the manure inhospitable to the fly larvae and maggots. They are a very beneficial part of managing, rejuvenating, and sustaining pastureland. Learn more about them here. You can even find out how to start your own dung beetle farm!

I hope you enjoyed yet another insight into the not so ordinary happenings (and conversations) here at MoonCat Farms/Red Barn Blue Skies.

And just for the record, I did NOT hitch a ride on his back while he was moving furniture – I directed. 

Dung Beetle Toy

 

And here is one of the reasons I decided to bring this post back – LOOK WHAT I FOUND!

Hello Father’s Day present Mr MoonCat/RedBarn/DungBeetle!

And one for the loving wife (ME):

So ladies, do you have your own dung beetle guy in the family?

postheadericon Spring is Sprung in the Coop

Spring is sprung, both in the world and inside the chicken coop. We’re gearing up for a wave of little blue, black, and splash chicks hatching in the near future.

Spring is Sprung in the Coop at Red Barn Blue Skies with Andalusian Chicks

 

I initially started raising Giant (Standard) Cochins with the thought they would be broodies for my Blue Andalusian chicks. Andalusians just have no interest in taking care of their own kids. They produce a bajillion of them, then they are just “dead-beat” parents and don’t want to take the time to hatch or raise them! They’d rather strut around and show off.

Spring is Sprung

The spring fever has hit hard this year. They are popping out eggs like crazy in my Andalusian breeding pen. I decided I was in need of some help to get the blue babies hatched.

Spring is Sprung in the Chicken Coop 2 at Red Barn Blue Skies

So Cochins to the rescue…or NOT. I waited and waited for one of my beautiful blue Cochin gals to go broody. You would think out of 9 hens, one would cooperate? Nope. Nada.

Hovabator Incubator for Spring is Sprung at Red Barn Blue Skies

So I took the plunge and ordered an incubator online. And guess what? The pretty little lady pictured below decided she wants to raise some chicks! The very day after I spent a small fortune on an “alternative” way to get those babies hatched.

Spring is Sprung in the Chicken Coop at Red Barn Blue Skies

And to add insult to injury, her broodiness was contagious and three of the other girls decided they want to be mamas too. So now my dilemma is finding enough eggs that I want my girls to hatch! Good thing they’re pretty…

Check out more of our adventures with chickens – life is never boring around here!

So what are your own plans now that spring is sprung for us all?

postheadericon Soap Making Class on a Soapy Saturday

This past Saturday was full of good, clean fun and learning at my very first soap making class! My sister-in-law Cindy and I went to a Botanical Soap Making Class taught by Justine Crane. For those of you who have been with me for a while, you’ll remember the Natural Perfumery class of hers that I enjoyed so much last August (read about it  here: What a Workshop!)

**Check out our soap making supplies checklist**

Soap making class for Red Barn Blue Skies

The Soap Making Class

The soap making class was held again at the Intermountain Nursery. We were out on the patio/potting shed area. While it’s a beautiful spot out there and ideal for the classes, we were unseasonably COLD! Leading up to the weekend we were worried we’d be overly warm as the previous weekend was in the 90s (as is usual). Instead, we were treated to a record-breaking 57 degrees for May 22nd. It had been 112 years since that record was challenged! Thankfully, the nursery had a fire pit made from an old washing machine tub (I should have taken a photo – it was really neat) and a propane heater shown below.

 

Cindy Stirring Soap for Soap Making Class

 

There were 11 students eager to learn the correct methods from Justine on making cold process soap.  Since it involves lye, Justine emphasized following proper safety procedures at all times.  We were all wearing long-sleeves, gloves, eye protection, and breathing masks.  Safety first!  (Cindy is planning on procuring us the long white lab coats to complete our look for our next soap making class adventure)

Cindy the Mad Scientist for Soap Making Class

 

We learned the best natural ingredients to use and the reasons or benefits of each. Justine also discussed and showed us the proper tools and equipment to have on hand. She took us step by step through the process and allowed us to each be as hands-on as we wanted. Everyone got to take a turn in some part of the creation of our soap.

Pouring in the Lye for the Soap Making Class

One of my favorite parts was the blending of the scent. We broke up into teams to create top, heart, and base notes from the essential oils. Cindy and I were responsible for the top note. We used bergamot (yum, Earl Grey tea….), lime, and a bit of lemon. Very clean and fresh smelling! The other teams mixed up the heart and base notes and then we combined them all together. It turned out to be an amazing scent.

 

After all of the measuring, blending, and experimenting with some color,  this:

 
Became this:
 

Happy Happy Happy

The soap making class was everything I had hoped it would be. Being shown how to do something and getting to be hands-on really makes a difference in learning some things for me. I’d been reading about making this type of soap for years but was leery of trying it – mostly due to the lye and a few questions I had that went unanswered until now. Justine armed us with the proper methods and the safety precautions and I’m now anxious to get started.

 

I’ve gathered my soap making ingredients and tools and will be ready to go on my solo soap flight in a short time. I actually stopped to buy lye at the hardware store in Prather after we left the nursery. Cindy and I excitedly bounced ideas off of each other all the way home. I was thrilled that Cindy was able to go the class with me. We always have a lot of fun together and seem to really work well as a team. I think this terrifies our husbands at times…..

Thanks Justine for a great class once again. Check out Justine’s sites Oh True Apothecary and The Scented Djinn for more info on natural perfumery and working with botanicals. She also has an online perfumery course!