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New and Improved Chicken Tractor September 29, 2006

Posted by Laura in Family, Farm.

We’ve been working a couple of hours here and there for a few weeks now on a second “chicken tractor.” Our first one is still in service, but we wanted to try a different design this time. We opted for a “hoophouse” style using PVC pipes for the “ribs” and wood for the frame and nesting boxes. Another important change was the addition of wheels to hopefully make this one easier to move around the pastures. It’s been in use one day and already we’ve made notes about how to build the next one differently.

Here are some pictures of the work in progress.


(Rachel was in charge of handing the screws to us as we worked. Superman came to bend the “steel” PVC pipes into place for us. Rachel is standing on what will hold the water fount. On the other end, the nesting boxes are under construction).




(We used 2 x 4 inch fencing over the PVC ribs. I primed and painted everything made from old scrap wood for durablity. The bottom frame is pressure treated wood. You can see the roosting rails across the middle for the chickens to sleep on and to stay out of wet grass).



(This last week, Benjamin turned the chicken tractor into his one-room schoolhouse, insisting on doing all his work inside while I did odds and ends on it).



(The tarp is on about 2/3 of it for shade and protection from the weather. The nesting boxes are hinged on top to allow us to gather eggs from outside the tractor. We have had a lot of predator problems lately, so there is a clasp on the lid to hopefully keep out critters).



(This is the sunporch end. The door also has a locking hasp. You can see one of the wheels in the center of the picture and one of the purple tow ropes on the left. Notice the crowd of prospective buyers checking out the new real estate).


Last night, we decided to try and catch the remaining “tree-sleeper” teenager chickens and put them in the new tractor. They will shortly begin laying and we would like to actually HAVE the eggs. These chickens have always been somewhat independent and no doubt would lay eggs in some secret place that we would never find. Often, they don’t show up for breakfast even when called, preferring to find their own food away from the humans than to get a handout within arm’s reach.

After dark (and during halftime in the Auburn/South Carolina football game), we went out to attempt the capture of 10 wily chickens once they had roosted in their favorite evergreen tree. Did I mention that this tree is taller than the 2 story house and the branches are long, but not terribly sturdy? I plucked a few out of the tree several weeks ago by pulling the branches down until I could reach them. They’ve since decided the higher branches are the place to sleep.


Benjamin quickly climbed the tree and tried to shake them off the branches. They can apparently ride out quite a storm without falling. Next, he tried to push them off the branches with a stick. Many jumped onto the stick instead, but jumped off again before they could be handed down. Joe decided to try to climb the tree himself to give it a try. Carefully choosing the branches most likely to hold him, Joe was able to shake or push the chickens off the branches. Unfortunately, capture was quite difficult nonetheless.


Standing below, flashlight in hand, I tried to grab them out of the air as they came flapping to earth. The flashlight proved to not be all that helpful, since I couldn’t catch well while holding it. Besides that, I couldn’t tell from where they would suddenly emerge since the branches were so thick. Another source of difficulty was all the “help” we had for this project. Gathered beneath the tree beside me were 3 dogs, 2 cats, and a chattering 4 yr old. A couple of times, a chicken I had been unable to grab out of the air landed right in front of me. I was a split second from snatching it up when a dog or cat beat me to it and sent it squawking and running crazily across the lawn. In the end, we got only 3 teenagers moved into their new residence. We’ll try again tonight, but this time, we’ll lock all the dogs in the laundry room and have the kids hold their cats and hope for a better outcome.



Boyish pajamas September 28, 2006

Posted by Joe in Uncategorized.
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I overheard a passing conversation between Benjamin and Rachel the other night. It was after their baths. Rachel passed Benjamin in the stairwell; she was wearing some of his hand-me-down pajamas.

Rachel: Do these pajamas make me look boy-ish?

Benjamin (after a brief glance): Yeah.

Rachel: Rats.

And that was the end of the conversation. Nothing more apparently needed to be said.

You know, Rachel is only 4 years old; she’ll be 5 in a couple of months. Yet, already she possesses so many seemingly contradicting characteristics that you’d think she is a teenager.

On the one hand, she loves being outside with Laura and me, working in the garden or pasture.

She will persevere in the heat of the summer to pick vegetables or to help string barbed-wire. And a good wrestling session can’t be beat.

Yet, on the other hand, she absolutely love the finer things that makes a prissy 4 year old’s day.

Beating her father in a game of Pretty, Pretty Princess, having her toe nails painted with glittering, pink nail polish, and dressing up as Snow White are a few of her favorite things.

Right now, I like to think of it as being well-rounded. In 10 years, when she’s a teenager, I’ll probably think she’s trying to drive me crazy.

Christian Agrarianism September 25, 2006

Posted by Laura in Family, Farm.
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We have mentioned in previous posts that we feel God led us to this glimpse of heaven we call home. And we most definitely still feel that way. With each passing day, we feel more honored that He has given us the privilege to care for this bit of land and the creatures on it, in addition to the delight we get from raising the children with which He’s blessed us. We get such joy from trying to live out His will for our lives and strive towards a Christian Agrarian ideal. But what exactly do I mean by that? Good question.

Contrary to what popular culture says is “normal”- both parents working outside the home 50+ hours a week, sacrificing family and always striving to attain the newest best “stuff,” letting the public education system choose what children learn (which would NOT include the spiritual heritage we want to pass on) , relying entirely on what is provided by chain grocery and discount stores- we have different ideas about how God prefers our families to live. Christian Agrarians don’t cut themselves entirely off from the world or set themselves up in little communes, but they do strive to live in ways that they feel honors God and respects both His creation and the family.  This frequently does mean turning off the television and limiting exposure to unGodly influences, though.

I could try to explain this further in my own words, but I found a wonderful posting on a blog I like to read that puts it quite well. I encourage you to read it and you can comment here if you wish.

Ear Issues September 21, 2006

Posted by Laura in Family, Farm, Uncategorized.

We’ve got an injury theme going on around here. First, Lucy got a tattered ear from an attack by a cousin dog. We’ve been teasing her that her time on the show circuit is over. (And I just knew she was going to be Grand Champion “Tennessee Black Dog,” too. 🙂 ). I tell her she actually looks quite fancy now with her lacy ear, but that perforated ears just aren’t appreciated by the masses yet.


Then, last week Patch crawled up under the hood of my truck. When I started it, it made an ugly sound and I turned it right back off, suspecting what may have happenend. A terrified and bleeding kitten came streaking out from under the truck to take refuge on the porch. Patch is now missing the pointed tip of her ear and a small strip of fur across the bridge of her nose- she is a VERY blessed kitty, though. The outcome could have been MUCH worse. I hope she learned a good lesson from this experience and will pass it along to Coco.


(These pictures were taken mostly before injuries. I thought I’d spare you the sight of the wounds. In other words, Benjamin is not smiling BECAUSE his kitty was injured, just from the delight of her company pre-incident.)

On Tuesday, Joe was working outside and playing with our 250+ pounds-worth of dogs. He needed a piece of wood for the chicken tractor, so he riled up the dogs with the usual, “Hey dogs, let’s go to the toolshed.” I have no idea why this gets them so excited- they get nothing when they get there, it’s not that far, and they come right back, but such is the response of simple, happy-go-lucky dogs. They began to run around and jump on each other and try to get Joe to wrestle.

As Lucy and Daisy began their sprint to the toolshed, Klondike (who is still new to these things) continued to try to engage Daisy in the wrestle. Daisy had already moved on to the next stage- run headlong, get there, look back to see where Joe was, look for squirrels, come back- and didn’t want to sacrifice her lead to Lucy. She tried to tell Klondike to get with the program, but he was slow to get the message. Their tussle became more serious and Joe had to get involved to separate them. Klondike, long fluffy fur protecting him, backed away unscathed. Daisy didn’t fare as well. One ear was bleeding pretty badly.

We tried to bandage it twice, but she shook her head and worked it off, leaving a lot of contemporary splatter art in her wake. I took her to the vet yesterday morning since it was still bleeding. Would you believe she had to be given a general anesthetic and stitched up? At least we got the comedy of watching Daisy pretend to NOT be sleepy (as she fought off the disappearing anesthetic) to help ease the the pain WE were feeling after the blow to the checkbook!


You can take the boy off the farm… September 16, 2006

Posted by Joe in Family, Farm.

I was recently reminded of something that happened about a year ago. It still brings a smile to my face so I thought I’d share it with you even though it’s “old news”.

Last August, I was invited to attend a one-day leadership training session in Chicago. As with a lot of these types of events, a welcome reception on the eve of the actual training was provided to “break-the-ice”. So I, and about 100 others from around the country, flew into Chicago that afternoon to attend the reception and to socialize before our training that was to follow the next morn.

The reception was held in a private room in a fine restaurant just off the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago; a very upscale place. Drinks and appetizers were served while we made small-talk. Then we made our way to another area where a nice multi-course meal was served while the conversations continued.

Unlike a lot of people in technical fields, I’m not overly introverted. So I seldom look at my own shoes, especially when talking with others. However, at one point during the evening’s activities, I did happen to glance down towards my feet. That’s when I noticed it. There, stuck to the side of the sole of my right shoe was an unmistakable and tell-tale sign of my origins. Sticking to the side of my black dress shoe was none other than a big, dried, white & and gray glob of chicken poop.

I must have stepped in a freshly formed pile while walking to my truck to go the airport that afternoon. Somehow, the rest of the walk to the truck and the ride to the airport didn’t cleanse me of my tag-along. Somehow, it continued to persist through the security checkpoint, without setting off all kinds of alarms! Apparently going completely unnoticed through the screening process.

Or perhaps it was noticed but simply not acted upon by the guards? How do you approach a man in business attire and ask him to clean off the chicken poo he left on the x-ray machine?

In any case, the poo remained. It traveled with me on the plane and even on taxi ride to the hotel once I had arrived at my destination.

Anyway, upon the startling revelation of the distance this poo had traveled, I glanced up, looking around to see if anyone in the room had noticed me noticing my own shoe. Thankfully everyone else seemed to be oblivious of my new discovery. As I took in the vast audience of other attendees, I realized that I was surrounded by CEO’s of large organizations, Presidents of companies, Chief Financial Officers for institutions. And there was me, in the middle of it all, standing amongst all of these people of respect, with chicken poo on my shoe. I laughed out loud at the juxtaposition of it all.

It was then, that I fully realized that you can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm off the boy. And I wouldn’t trade that for the world!

Cockerels Getting Cocky September 15, 2006

Posted by Laura in Farm.
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The chicks from the spring are almost grown up now. The pullets should begin laying their first eggs by the end of October (be assured you’ll see pictures of those special dark eggs when they start coming in!). The cockerels have been trying out their crows for several weeks already.

The cockerels are pretty funny to hear while they are learning. Even I can do a better crow than they can for the first month or so! Kind of an “Urk-a-urk-a-cough” where they scratch out at the end and are promptly shown how a real rooster does it by one of their elders.

No one can outdo Percy, though. He is the “top dog,” so to speak. He is a Jersey Giant cross, so he is the largest, but he is the oldest also. Percy is about 4 years old now, which is a ripe old age for a chicken. He even has a gray tail feather.


(This picture was taken a couple of weeks ago. I’m glad I took it when I did because Percy is a sight now- he’s molting again. Gone are the nice sickle tail feathers and the impressive ruff around the neck. At present, he is nearly bald around the throat and looks less than regal now. I haven’t heard any of the young whippersnappers be bold enough to make fun of him, though- they aren’t that dumb).

As the nestmates mature, they need to work out a hierarchy. They all know they are subject to Percy’s reign, but every other place is negotiable. This will go on for some time as they continue to fill out and get bolder, and especially as they try out their charms on the womenfolk.

There is LOTS of extra crowing now. There is much puffing out of chests and facing off, too. This amuses me.


Two cockerels get several inches apart and stare at each other for about 30 seconds- a version of “you blinked first” that kids like to play. They flip up their neck feathers in an attempt to look larger than they really are. Then one takes a leap at the other, spurs first. (Roosters have a “spur” on each heel. They are kind of like claws and they use them as weapons).

If you jump straight forward, stick your feet out in front of you and miss your opponent, you look pretty silly when you land on your rear. That is what happens most of the time. It takes a moment to gather up your dignity after that, but they do try to persevere. This will go on until one backs down or the face-off is interrupted (say, by a laughing human). Then they will nonchalantly pretend they were just foraging and wander in opposite directions, to pick up the challenge again another day.

(Here Prince Buttercup- remember the one that has the crown-shaped comb?- is taking on one of the slightly larger White Faced Black Spanish cockerels, collectively known as the Goofball Brothers).

As an aside, the poults are still doing well. It appears that we DO have a “couple” of turkeys. Here, George is in the foreground with Martha behind him.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that these heritage turkey breeds “sing” more like a bird than a chicken. They have a sweet trill that they use to converse with each other. I enjoy hearing them.

That little nubbin on George’s forehead will be his “snood”- that thing that dangles down past the beak on the toms. You can see the red coloring coming in on his wattle, too (the loose throat skin). Martha thinks he is The Man! Of course, he is the ONLY male turkey she’s ever met, too, but let’s not burst George’s bubble.


You Can’t See Me! September 14, 2006

Posted by Laura in Farm.
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I believe I have mentioned before that we have the world’s brightest animals living on our farm. (Okay, I couldn’t get all the way through that sentence with a straight face).

Anyway, recently there has been a trend towards camo and hide & seek. Here are some of our animals doing their best jobs being invisible. Just TRY to find them in the pictures!


Give up? Here I am.


(I’m pretty good.  Bet you’re glad you aren’t a rabbit!)

( I can see you, but I know you can’t see me….).


(Patch, Benjamin’s kitty, taking a break from stalking chickens. Naughty, naughty girl!).


(Bet you can’t find me- I’m a leaf!)


(Okay, how’s this, then? If I turn my back on you, surely I become invisible).



(Oops, Coco!  You forgot to hide a few parts).


And finally,….


(White dog against a white wall and he even did the old polar bear trick- covered up his black nose.  Or maybe he is just counting-  “eighteen, nineteen, twenty.  Ready or not, here I come!  I’m gonna find you Lucy!” ).

More pictures from Labor Day September 11, 2006

Posted by Joe in Family.

Grams sent us these pictures from our Labor Day weekend. Thought I’d share them.


Although Grams opted to stay home and leave it to us men-folk to protect the land from the doves migrating down from the north, her camera did go with us.


Can you tell Benjamin was excited about his first hunting trip with the guys?


Benjamin and Rachel peeking up from the sleeping quarters below.


A picture from the galley.

And one more from on the deck.

Homemade Bread September 8, 2006

Posted by Laura in Family, Farm.

One of the best smells in the world is fresh bread. I’m not sure why that smell is so appealing. Maybe it represents “home and hearth,” “mom and apple pie” –that ideal of coming home to a lovingly cooked meal, happy memories of times around the table with family, or maybe lost priorities from bygone days.

Whatever it is, I really enjoy it. I have been baking bread off and on since high school. My favorites are yeast and sourdough, but we make and eat a fair amount of “quick” types like banana bread, too.  (Atkin’s Shmatkins-  pfft!).

Last week, I made a new sourdough starter. (The old one had been neglected, turned dark, and had the potent smell of “spirits” from the fermentation action. It may have been fine, but I didn’t want to take any chances. It went in the compost).

For the uninitiated, a sourdough starter is a liquid active yeast mixture that can be used as leavening for many kinds of bread. It is basically a flour and warm water mixture to which yeast has been added. The yeast continues to multiply as long as it is “fed” carbs and kept at a lukewarm temperature. To make a batch of bread, you remove a portion of the starter, add your other ingredients and let it rise. You replace the used portion with more warm water and flour.


We are becoming more and more interested in healthy homegrown food. I really wanted to grow the grains we would use for bread this year, but the seed just didn’t get planted. We are making due with what we can get from health food stores.

Typically, we use whole wheat flour and some combination of the following other ingredients, depending on the use of the bread (sandwich, breakfast toast, cinnamon rolls, etc.): millet, oats, amaranth, quinoa, cracked wheat or wheat bran, milled flax seed, buckwheat flour, barley flour, rye flour, or sunflower seeds. We may add spices like cinnamon, basil, dill, or fresh rosemary, too.

Tuesday was a bread baking day. We began in the morning by creating a “sponge” of newly fed starter, just as Carla Emery describes in her wonderful, must-have book The Encyclopedia of Country Living. (Sadly for all the homesteaders out there, she passed away last September).


After a several hours, it was bubbly and aromatic. We added the other ingredients, kneaded it (the kids’ favorite part), and let it rise. It wasn’t until the following morning that the bread was ready to bake.

Sourdough takes some planning and patience. But that’s okay- fresh cinnamon bread with butter smeared on top is worth waiting for. The four of us ate half the loaf right out of the oven for breakfast. The only thing that would be better is if we had made the butter from our own cream. (I keep hinting at getting milk goats or a dairy cow but Joe pretends not to get the hints. I think the bottom line is that he won’t commit to anything that lactates except me! I’ll just count my blessings that I am excepted from that rule).


Labor Day September 5, 2006

Posted by Joe in Family.

Today is the Labor Day holiday here in the U.S. A holiday that’s differs from most other holidays because it’s not dedicated to any man or event in history. Other holidays tend to commemorate a person or group of people (Christmas, Memorial Day, President’s Day, etc) or an event in history that we consider significant and memorable (Easter, the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, etc).

Although the origins of Labor Day are rooted in the organized labor movement of the late 1800’s, it has been slowly transformed into a day of rest and fun for the American worker. As the unofficial end-of-summer, it’s typically celebrated with picnics, barbecues, and waterside fun!

This year, we started our Labor Day celebration on Saturday with a family gathering and an afternoon dove hunt. It was Benjamin’s first time to go hunting with me. Despite not wielding a shotgun, he had a great time and is eager to go back. I’m glad he’s reached the age where he can come along and participate in things like this. In a year or two, he’ll be out there shooting in the general vicinity of the birds just like his dad.

We spent Sunday afternoon at the lake on Bepops and Grams’ houseboat. We cruised around Percy Priest lake, swam, ate, and swam some more, and just had a wonderfully relaxing and family-oriented afternoon of fun. Here’s a picture of the crew.



On Monday afternoon, we continued our Labor Day celebration with a grill-out at our friends Brent and April’s house. Like us, they have returned to a simpler life of homesteading and homeschooling (actually they’ve been at it longer than us). We first met them at church; they are really down-to-earth people and are fun to be around.

We had a great time this Labor Day weekend! Spending time with our family and friends is what holidays are all about.

In my line of work I see a lot of people chasing the “American Dream” and climbing the corporate ladder of success. I’ve even been in the rat race myself. Fortunately, I had a wise man once tell me that many people climb the ladder of success only to find that it was leaning against the wrong wall. They learn after it’s too late what makes life really worth living. I’ve reflected on that many times and I’m very glad to have learned the lesson earlier rather than later in life. I feel very blessed to be where I am right now and know that there are far higher callings in life. I’m reminded of the following conversation between Shake McGuire and Coach Tom Baker in the movie “Cheaper by the Dozen” when the Coach resigns from his position as Head Football Coach at his alma mater.

Tom Baker: I’m resigning after the season, Shake.

Shake McGuire: Giving up the dream, huh?

Tom Baker: Just going after a different one.

Shake McGuire: No regrets?

Tom Baker: If I screw up raising my kids… nothing I achieve will matter much.