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What Our Family Dogs Mean to Us

The family, but me, with all of the dogs Jan. 2012

I did an About Us section for our blog awhile back, and I decided I needed to introduce you to more of our family members. Today, I’ll start with the dogs.

It all began with Skipper. He’s our miniature dachshund that we have had the pleasure of being owned by for 13.5 years, yep he owns us…have you ever met a mini doxie?. It all started with dogsitting…we had some great friends in Texas who had a miniature dachshund, Buster, that was so sweet to watch; he would just curl up with you and nap. He was smart and would bark like he was a big dog (albeit he was barking at butterflies at times), he made me laugh. As a young couple, we didn’t have any pets and were really thinking about a getting a dog, but knew the commitment and expense that would be. Our daughter was only 1 year old and we wanted to have a dog with a great temperament around children too. When Buster had puppies with our other good friend’s mini dachshund, Sammie, we got the awesome privilege and gift to pick our first puppy…what a special gift Skipper has been to us. We picked Skipper out of the rest of the litter, because he ran to us and was so loving; he “skipped” he was so happy. Being a huge perfectionist (which isn’t a good thing a lot of times), I read lots of puppy books to try to learn the proper way to potty train him, crate train him and how to play with him to be the best puppy he could be. It sure takes a lot of patience to potty train a puppy, but Skipper and I made it through and he still comes and “tells” me with his eyes and little whine when he needs to go outside.

Skipper January 2007

Anytime you sit down, Skipper is always there to keep you company right beside you. You can’t feel lonely long if Skipper’s able to be there. He will lick you to let you know how much you are loved, if he gets any chance ūüôā I am thankful for Skipper’s clean-up duty that he took upon himself when all of my children were in highchairs….he would jump up there and clean any food particles up and of course take care of the floor for me (but he had to go on diet food to watch his waistline when he started that habit). What a great dog he is, his tail is always wagging!

Skipper is brave too…one day when walking in our suburban neighborhood, two dogs came running out of their yard toward my 4 year old daughter who was just ahead of me a ways with Skipper on the leash. Skipper jumped in between her and the dogs to protect her causing him to get bitten and scratched on his little belly that he exposed in a submissive way to the other dogs. My daughter still remembers that day and still talks about Skipper’s bravery.

2004-Skipper and the Children

Next Sammy came into our lives. I went to a little party at a friend’s house and heard about a dog that needed to find a new home. He was still only a puppy of less than a year and for some reason I just fell in love with him before even meeting him. Of course, I talked with my family and we had to talk with the landlord to see if it would be OK to have an extra dog in our rental. When we got the go ahead from the landlord (even though it would be $50 extra rent per month), I asked the owner if we could see how Sammy fit with our family for a few days before making a decision. Sammy is a cockapoo which is a lot different than our little daschund; he would need to be groomed when his hair got too long and curly. We were a little nervous about grooming and the commitment and money that would take, plus his fluffy feet did bring in more mud than Skipper’s little feet ever did. But, Sammy was so fun and full of life. Well, when he wasn’t sleeping that is, he was tired at first…our busy family of six gave him a lot of excitement. He fit in well with our family, he loved to go on car rides, walks and just run around with the children while they played outside…he was sure fast! We decided to get him after talking with my mother-in-law who encouraged me that he would make a great family member. Sammy likes to stay by me most of the day, he’s my “entourage”, even sleeping at the foot of my bed most nights. He also alerts me to any noises outside, using his awesome hearing in those fluffy soft ears of his. At first, he didn’t like vacuums or blue things and would bark at them, but he is not as afraid anymore. He is a cuddly teddy bear type of dog and the grooming has been taken on by my husband. When Sammy starts looking like a sheep, we give him a haircut. Thankfully, the children love to give the dogs baths, so that has been a blessing to keep him nice and clean. We also use towels to wipe their feet at the door during muddy seasons.

Not long after getting Sammy (on the left), Grandma Mc visits with her rescue, Beau ~ 2007

Sammy was a puppy and went through a chewing stage for a long time…he liked/likes to play with the children a lot!

Silly Sammy playing with Gladiolus, probably trying to chew her footie feet. He was a chew-er. 2007
Sammy has mellowed a bit in is middle age…he doesn’t chew everything, yay! He still loves to run and have fun, especially on the sledhill with the children. 2012

Our Great Pyrenees, Anna, came into our lives a year after we moved to our house out here. We realized we needed help to watch our goats, chickens and ducks and protect them from marauding foxes, coyotes and roaming dogs. Anna is our awesome livestock guardian dog who allows us to rest easy at night knowing that she is watching out for our animals as they sleep in their beds at night. It is Anna who allows us to come home a little later than dark when our chickens are sleeping on their roosts trusting that no predators are coming to get them; Anna has deterred those predators from even trying with her vigilant barks and patrolling runs around the pasture. Anna grew up with some friends of ours until they realized that she needed more work to do to be happy as they were busy building a house and there weren’t many animals on their farm at the time to watch over for Anna to feel useful; she wanted to work. A mutual friend had heard that I was looking for a guardian, because our goats had just had a big scare from a random dog running them around in the pasture; it was frightening how quick the goats could have been killed had we not been home and scared the dog away.

When we first introduced Anna to her new home, Nov 2008. She’s beautiful.

When we brought Anna home at the end of 2008, she fit in with us right away; she is very good around our goats, chickens, ducks, cats and Skipper and Sammy. I seriously love her and appreciate her work that she does for us on a daily basis. She usually takes the night shift and sleeps in the sun during the daytime. If its raining, she will sleep in the barn on the straw and the goats respect her space. The goats don’t respect her food; however, so we have to feed her away from them or she will let them eat all of her food out of deference to them as her charge (even though it would be bad for her and them, she is that sweet, so we have to protect her food from those silly, greedy goats).

Anna is very smart and instinctively protective. Our first winter she was here was the first winter it got snowy enough to sled down our hill. My son, Cactus Jack, had just turned 5 and we had explained that he wasn’t to go on the pond as it wasn’t safe to walk on or around. I stepped into the barn to watch a hen laying an egg and came back out to the pasture hill. My son had walked on the pond telling by his little footprints on the snow covered ice, but he hadn’t been alone; Anna’s footprints were right beside his. Thankfully, they were light enough that they hadn’t fallen through the ice. I am still thankful for Anna’s watchful eyes when mine weren’t there, yes I have mom-guilt for those few minutes I was in the barn and I am still grateful that there isn’t more to that story to tell. I just love Anna and her love and care to all of us.

Anna and Petunia Fall 2011

August 2011 brought Marmaduke into our lives. On our way home from church, we found him walking down the center of a country road. He was very skinny and staggering a bit, we didn’t even know what he was, he was so large we thought he might of been a small horse who was loose on the road. We drove up beside him and talked to him, he looked so skinny. I jumped out of the truck’s passenger seat and opened the back gate and told him to jump in if he wanted to come with us, he hopped right in. We drove to neighboring houses to see if he belonged to them; he didn’t want to get out and they didn’t open their doors. We decided he needed some food, water and rest so we brought him home for a respite. He had sores on his feet from traveling, open sores on his hips from being so skinny, scratches on various parts of his body and he was very thin. My children named him Marmaduke right then, cautioned by us that we didn’t know if he had an owner that was missing him somewhere. We didn’t even know what kind of dog he was, because his hair looked too long to be a greyhound’s…they are supposed to have slick, short hair like Skipper’s. We took him to the vet after letting him rest for a day at our house and after checking him for tattoos and chips, the vet agreed he was a sighthound, a greyhound. Marmaduke had no chips or tattoos and we held our breath standing in the vet’s office that we may have a new family member. We had done some research and learned a bit about greyhounds and knew that they needed to be indoor dogs because of their short hair, plus we learned other characteristics that we were able and willing to adjust to if/when we found out that he didn’t belong to anyone else. The vet called the greyhound rescue nearby to ask if he belonged to them, since we had found him close to their home; he didn’t belong to them, but they would be happy to take him, if we didn’t want him. My children and I all exclaimed that we wanted him, we had already fallen in love with his sweetness and we wanted to take care of him. He was ours and we were happy to nurse him back to health.

Thumbs up, Marmaduke gets to stay with us! Aug 2011

Marmaduke slowly regrew his hair (his hair was long since he hadn’t had any new growth in awhile due to his body being under stress) and his sores got better. He also had a case of whipworms and hookworms which took about 8 weeks to get rid of, about 4 trips to the vet every other week for worming meds and collecting and disposing of each of his bowel movements to keep the worms from spreading to us or our other animals; parasites are a constant battle around a farm and I didn’t want to add to their population.

Marmaduke after one of his many vet visits to deworm him, he is happy here, I think he’s smiling.

Marmaduke is better now, healthy and very energetic, he’s our morning alarm clock…we haven’t had to use one since he started sleeping in our room at night, he wants to get up and GO!. He loves to go on trail walks with Pat in the morning and he even gets to play with Anna sometimes too, before the goats wake up, he kind of finds them fun to run with, so he isn’t trusted with the farm animals off the leash. He likes to show off how fast he can run to Anna, he’s funny.

Marmaduke looking better and loving Pat

Marmaduke gets afraid of lightning and thunderstorms, but we have started tying a towel around him like a cape and it makes him feel safer…I want to make him a cape with an “M” on it, so he can look like Super-Marmaduke. He likes to sleep on his cozy bed cushion and he loves to give hugs, he’s such a loving dog, it makes me wonder where he came from and if they miss him. He’s a sweet boy and we are so glad that he is in our lives.

Charlie on the first night here after almost hitting him on the road. He was flea bitten and ridden and had sick eyes that needed cleaning.

At the end of October 2011, I almost hit little Charlie with the truck within inches of his life. I swerved to miss the little guy in the middle of the dark road and I still remember his eyes looking back at me that moment before it could have been a horrible outcome, still makes me shudder. Fortunately, I missed him and ended up picking him up out of the road while making traffic slow down. I called our neighbor to see if she knew whose dog it was, she didn’t but had seen a dog like that a few miles away a few days before I found him. We put up signs and took him in, the children decided his name would be Charlie, I just heard the other name in contention was “Swerve”…Charlie fits him better. He was flea bitten pretty bad and the vet gave him his shots and thinks he is around 2 years old. He was “fixed”, so we figured someone was missing him. We called around and drove to ask if he belonged to people who had advertised missing dogs. We decided to give it a month until we could officially welcome him into the family. It was right around Thanksgiving when we made the announcement; he was in the McCartney family.

Marmaduke and Charlie hang out on Marmaduke’s bed

Charlie loves helping Pat in the morning chores around the farm. He is good around the chickens, ducks and goats. He took a while to warm up, but now he zooms out the door for his morning chores and walk with Pat and Marmaduke. Charlie doesn’t need a leash, he runs around and then comes back to check on Pat and starts sounding like a snorting little piggie when he gets really worked up and energized; he’s so funny and cute. Charlie doesn’t like lots of commotion and likes to go in his crate for security. After he was here for 2 months, he got brave enough to come out to be with us on Christmas day and sit on our laps…he doesn’t like floor threshold changes, I don’t know if he had ever been inside before.

The first time Charlie came out of the kitchen himself, he doesn’t like changes in floor texture and is working up his courage. Dec 2011

He still doesn’t trust our son, although Cactus Jack hasn’t done anything to cause Charlie’s distrust. I wonder if Charlie was around a boy that wasn’t very gentle? I hope that one day Charlie feels safe around all of us here. He is a happy, bouncy joyful reminder that going outside to take care of our outside animals is fun and exciting every day! Charlie is our chore cheerleader!

I read someone write that having a dog is expensive and I agree, having 5 dogs is also expensive. It may seem that we have it easy and that’s why we have these 5 dogs, but we have to budget just like most families, it’s not easy. These dogs are in our family and we take that commitment to them seriously and pray that we can always provide for them until theirs, or our, dying day. Yes, it costs money and time to keep these dogs healthy and happy, but what they contribute is great too and I believe they make all our family’s lives fuller for their being a part of it.

Backyard Hugulkultur Bed

After listening to Paul Wheaton who runs and on Jack Spriko’s The Survival Podcast talk about hugulkultur beds the first time , I was so intrigued! Unfortuantely, at the time there was only one video I could find on youtube that demonstrated what he was saying in his interview. I am more of a visual learner than an audio learner, so I wanted more visuals!

Fortunately, there has been a surge of information on hugulkultur beds since that first interview and I think other people just like me were excited to find a way to use old logs and branches to make raised beds that could eventually be irrigation free, wow, a way to grow things without watering them all the time in the summer! I would like to say that I am excited about this method because of the amazing water conservation, but I must confess that I am lazy and any non-work solution that can be found (even though the labor is in the frontend) is something that I jump at! I don’t think I’ll have MORE energy in 20 years when these beds are still delivering a nice crop with little-to-no watering.

Paul Wheaton has written up a pretty great explanation of hugulkultur beds. I like his graphics too, did I say I’m a visual learner?

Paul Wheaton learned about hugulkultur beds from the amazing Sepp Holzer out in Austria. Sepp and his wife are living on the Alps growing things that one would never think would grow up there, like Lemon trees. Sepp only speaks German which makes me want to learn German just so I could hear his talks; I am sure that every sentence of his is fraught with so much information that a translator who isn’t a permaculturist or a farmer would never be able to truly express all that is packed in those few words…not to diss any translators, but if an Austrian farmer talks anything like an American farmer… there is a lot said and unsaid in the words they choose, in my opinion. Sepp does have a great book where he talks about his farm and he even goes into the hugulkultur beds that he makes, it’s a great book! Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture…it is packed with information that I am still digesting.

My husband is on the hugulkutur train and I am so thankful for his hard work in building the beds, it’s not easy, but I so appreciate him. He uses his trusty Rhino tool that we talked about when making trails as well.

Today is a warm day in January and I caught Pat outside working on our hugulkultur bed in the garden so I took a video of him here:

So, next time a tree falls down, maybe you could make a garden bed and reap the non irrigating rewards for years to come!

Seeds, Growboxes and Gardening – Oh My!

It’s that time of year again, time to get organized to start some seeds for the veggie garden. Last year was the second year that we used Jack Spirko’s Grow Light System
We had one box the first year and upgraded to 3 boxes last year.

Here are a couple of videos I took of our seed starts last year:

Grow Box Starting Jan 20, 2011

More growbox starts Feb 14, 2011

My seeds are far from being organized, yikes.

My Seed Storage “Method”, I think there are more in a drawer somewhere

I once made a list of them, but I have misplaced it. I tried to put my seeds away in air tight containers (I use my foodsaver attachment with my mason jars), but never put them away properly last year. Getting the seeds started was a large enough goal and I just couldn’t keep up with everything.

We started almost 95% of our garden from seed and bought some herb plants. We had delicious hybrid tomatoes, despite having some blossom end rot due to all the rain. Our peppers never did great because their position in the garden was too shaded. The zucchinis did OK, even though they had a rough start due to the chickens pecking them when they were little transplants.

First Ripe Tomato (Early Girl?) June 29, 2011

One thing my husband and I agreed on last year was I would be in charge of seed starts and he would do the transplanting and tending. We both canned the excess; it was our first year to can tomatoes last year. It helped us to divvy out the responsibilities, because I was feeling overwhelmed with trying to transplant, but Pat was happy to. Communication is tough and is sure important for these kind of tasks we have found around here on the homestead.

I would like to try some heirloom tomato varieties this year, but I haven’t made any decisions. Learning to save seeds of the tomatoes that we grow is a goal, that’s why I would like to have an heirloom variety that will breed true and I can try to regrow the next year. Hybrids are delicious and yummy, but they may not be the same when started from the saved seed the next year, I’m sure they would be tasty tomatoes though. Some heirloom varieties have been handed down for generations and bred for certain characteristics and I think that is really cool to learn about in all of the awesome seed catalogs that I tend to drool over.

I’d like to grow watermelons again, for some reason I never started any seeds last year, but the year before my children loved the watermelons that came out of the garden. Pumpkins, more kale, swiss chard and comfrey is on my list as well. Starting to thing springtime thoughts over here at Locust Farms.

What are you thinking about growing this year? Please let me know, I’d love to hear your plans.

Bees Buzzing in January

We started keeping bees the summer after Petunia and I took a local beekeeping class in 2008. Keeping bees has been a challenge for me, because they aren’t a cut and dry thing…they are little livestock that need tended and managed and they know more of their needs than I do…sometimes I just get in the way. The first year was a great summer even extracting about 25 pounds of their yummy honey from our first hive. Fortunately my beehive lived through the winter of 2008-2009 with no help from me besides making sure they had honey and a windbreak.

We added two more nucs in the spring of 2009 and tried to make a split of the older hive because it was about to swarm. We also captured our first swarm at the beginning of June even knowing that the swarm wouldn’t have time to make a healthy hive before winter; it was a great learning opportunity to “catch” a swarm. That winter we went into it with 3 strong hives, a weak split and a very weak swarm hive. We left all honey (it wasn’t a lot as most were newer hives) on them for winter reserves.

In the beginning of Feb 2010, I knew my strong 3 hives were alive, but everything was dead in March, less than a month later. We had demolished their windbreak while making a pond nearby and it was really cold those last few weeks of winter, very cold. So, we thought that the bees had frozen since they had some reserves left…not much but there was still some honey. Looking back, I realize that little honey wasn’t enough for them and they actually had starved. I about gave it all up that year.

It was tough to get a nuc that spring 2010, because I wasn’t on any waiting lists and nucs can go fast. Fortunately, I was able to buy three nucs at the beginning of June and tried hard to get them strong enough for winter, actually I didn’t try as hard as my husband; I was still whining about how I had killed all my hives before and had no business killing more. We gave them sugar water to try to get them enough time to pull out their wax on the frames to have space for building their brood and reserves for winter. You may wonder what happened to all the hive frames that were in the other hives that died a few months before…well, the wax moths destroyed them so fast, it was incredible and so very discouraging. So we were starting from scratch with these new bees. Winter came and we just left any honey on the hives and hoped for the best.

Feb 2011 was the annual Indiana Bee School and Randy Oliver was the guest speaker. My husband was able to go with me for the first time and he brought a fresh set of eyes and ears, plus we could double team and hear more information. During lunch my husband told me that Randy talked about the reasons why most bees die in the midwest – the most common reason being starvation. The brood is made up of protein and when the queen goes to make the next generation of bees, there isn’t enough protein to do that and the bees eat the brood to survive but the entire hive dies – we ran to buy pollen patties right then.

When we got home, we put those pollen patties on the hives and two lived, the third had already died by the time we realized our mistake of not enough protein for the first spring generation brood.

Mel Disselkoen was also at the school; his website is a wealth of information where he speaks of making OTS (on-the-spot) queens and splits. We decided to try his method of making splits while also using Randy Oliver’s advice of choosing hygienic hives (where the bees themselves are cleaning up and fighting against the Varroa mites). I just wanted to recoup all of the hives that I had bought (and killed since 2008)…those nucs weren’t cheap and I was sick about all of them dying.

Using the very best hygienic hive, we made one spring split (which created 4 new hives) and a summer split (making 4 nucs). We also split the other hive to have a replacement hive and use the original as a honey hive that Mel talks about in his information, we did not use that hive to make more queens. Winter 2011-2012, we went in with 7 strong hives and 4 nuc sized hives. This January there have been some nice warm days and the bees have been flying for cleansing flights, yay bees buzzing in January…that’s always a welcome sight! Every hive seems to be doing well and I pray that the healthy ones survive. It is a goal to be able to make early spring splits to have nucs to sell this year, it would be nice if my bees could help send our children to college…please bees?

The bees are still buzzing and I am grateful to all of the beekeepers who have been so helpful as I travel and stumble along this beekeeping journey.

Low-Waste Wooden Goat Hay Feeder

Unlike the myth, goats will not “eat anything”…which may go against your recollection as a child when visiting the petting zoo and the goat not only ate your grain but your cup too ūüôā That goat was just a stinker and bored; they are pretty smart and precocious creatures that need some entertainment at times and seeing a child’s shocked face was probably a highlight.

Goats are a ruminant, which means (in a nutshell, because the system is very complex and amazing) that they eat herbaceous material like hay, browse of shrubs and trees, along with broad leaves and grasses which all go into the rumen (a special part of the stomach that is a type of vat where the plant compounds are converted into sugars and other cool stuff by the symbiotic microbes that live within a healthy ruminants’ rumen). The goats use that finished “vat” material for energy and growth, plus dairy does even make extra protein and fat for their milk output…I think that’s amazing.

A bit too full, but an idea of the Low Waste Wooden Goat Hay Feeder.
The goats move fast, thus the blurry “action” shot.

To remain at the optimum health, a goats’ rumen should never be empty, so they need to have browse available to them at all times. We give fresh hay in the morning and evening feedings and our goats are able to browse outside when the weather allows. We like to give our goats hay in the morning before they go outside to graze, hoping to keep them off of the wet, dewy grass for as long as possible (hopefully, until the sun burns off the dew) since wet grass can cause them to bloat. The hay also acts as a sponge for the wet grass if the goats do decide to gorge on the wet “salad bar” in the pasture. Bloat is a serious condition that occurs to goats when their rumen gets “off kilter” and the microbes aren’t able to process the materials properly. I won’t go into the details of hay (hay is not hay, is not hay, everyone has an opinion and there are probably textbooks on hay…funny huh?), but we use a grass based, weedy hay that our goats love. Our hay also has dried red clover in it as well and we have found that our goats love dried clover a lot more than they like fresh clover. We like the weeds in our hay, because weeds can have deep tap roots that pull minerals from the subsoil beneath the top soil. Goats are very mineral dependent and we like to have a variety of weeds to try to meet that mineral requirement they have.

So, our hay is weedy and full of different plants and our goats have favorite parts. They like to pick their favorites out of the hay and leave the not so yummy (and I am guessing the less than optimum nutritional parts too). They are persnickety creatures that do not “finish their plates” and will not eat everything in their hay feeder to the bottom. That’s why we give them fresh hay every morning and night…not too much to keep them from going out to “work” for their food by browsing and grazing though, so it’s a balancing game of observation and learning.

Now we come to not wasting hay. Hay is valuable and nutrient rich when it is clean and fresh; I don’t want to waste it as bedding, when a less nutrient dense material would suffice for animal bedding, like carbon-rich straw and wood shavings. Plus, if you have ever tried cleaning out a stall, I think most people would agree that matted down hay is the hardest thing to clean out, but straw is much easier (I’m not sure why, but it’s just what I’ve learned…my family and I have some theories that I won’t bore you with right now). I want to squeeze as much nutrition from our hay and get as much of it into our goats (it’s time consuming and costly to harvest hay, so I don’t want to waste those commodities either), but goats will naturally “fight” that process with that persnickety behavior of theirs. Remember when I said that a goat has favorites in the hay? Well, a goat with a normal feeder will pull their favorite hay from the feeder, dropping at least half of it while chewing it and enjoying their surroundings. That’s a lot of wasted hay!!! How do I make a goat feeder with little waste?!

A book that I read a long time ago and probably need to read again now that I might understand more of what he’s saying from my own failures and experiences in goat keeping is Dairy Goats for Pleasure and Profit by Harvey Considine.  In it, he talks about his years of experience keeping dairy goats, feeding them and creating a low waste hay feeder (can you tell Harvey is my hero?)  He shares, among all the other information, in his book a hay feeder design that deters the goats from pulling their heads out after every bite that they take of hay by designing the feeder with slanted slats that bump the goat’s ear if they try to pull their head out quickly.  It encourages the goat to keep their head in the feeder and drop any excess back into the feeder.  It’s amazing.

Dairy Goats for Pleasure and Profit-
a great resource for all things goat related

When we first implemented the feeder, there was a transition time.  At first, it was scary to watch the goats try to figure the feeder out, because some goats were bullies and would butt the others and when one goats head was in the feeder, I was afraid that they would get hurt.  Fortunately, the goats can see if the other goats are coming up and can watch for the bullies.  I haven’t noticed bullying anymore, because we make sure there is enough feeder space for all the goats, even the shyer ones.  When we first implemented the feeders, we had some goats that couldn’t fit into the spacing.  Harvey Considine suggests a spacing, but I think some of our goat breeds that weren’t Saanens had bigger heads, so we adjusted the spacing.  Harvey suggested 5.5 ” on square for mature does and 6.5″ for bucks with a 63-degree angle slant.  Our spacing is a bit wider, but not too wide to make it easy for them to pull their head out after every bite.  On the first day we built our feeder, we never left our goats until we were sure that every goat understood the feeder and was able to use it successfully.

We also built “benches” that the goats step up on with their front feet and then are able to bend their heads down into the feeders to eat the hay.  Harvey suggested this in his book and we never doubted his experience, so we added it to our feeder design.  The feeder works best when the hay flake is laid into the feeder flat and the goat must put his head into the feeder to reach it.  In our video, you’ll see what happens when our feeders are over-filled and how the goats react (and waste).  We also pull out the extra hay and show how the goats act when the hay is lower in the feeder.

Harvey Considine cleans out his feeders before every feeding.  We don’t clean it out that often, but we do clean it out regularly and use the uneaten hay for mulch in our flower beds (a method I learned from Ruth Stout in her book, The No-Work Gardening Book).  Harvey Considine says that some of the chaff of the extra hay can also be a great hay for baby goats, but we have never kept it and reused it in that way.  Hopefully, this post has been useful to others out there who have also noticed the wastefulness that goats’ natural behaviors can cause…and hopefully, this will help you love your goats more and be less frustrated with them :).

Some of our Goats using the Hay Feeder based on Harvey Considine’s Low Waste Hay Feeder Design

Making Our Own Beehive Woodenware

In 2008, my daughter Petunia and I took our first beekeeping class at the Indiana Beekeeping School:

Rachel and Lais making our first beehive Jan 2008

We learned a great philosophy for keeping bees and even assembled our own woodenware (at least part of it) during the class. I’m not sure if the class still includes that time to make woodenware, since I think it’s only a day now. The woodenware came with a beginner beekeeping kit that had all you need to get started in beekeeping: helmet, smoker, even some smoker fuel.

The price of the class, the hive, and the beginner beekeeping kit was pretty costly, in my opinion. As I started thinking about raising more bees, the thought of buying more of those beginner hives made me so afraid of the crazy cost. And, this summer, I really needed more hivebodies as we truly grew our hives from 2 to 11 through splits that we made.

Fortunately, Pat is a woodworker and he decided to try to build our own hives. We found a great website that has the exact dimensions for several different types of hives:

Getting the dimensions correct is critical to creating a hive with the proper “bee space”. Honey bees need a certain amount of space to get through openings and it shouldn’t be too big or the bees will be tempted to make burr comb (which is any comb that really isn’t where it’s “supposed” to be). It is also important to use the correct dimensions so that any hive accessory equipment you choose to purchase will fit properly.

Pat reviewed the various designs but believed that they all had incorporated a bit of complexity that was not necessary. Each additional component of the hive costs money to install, maintain, and eventually replace. Pat believed a “simpler” design would actually be easier to maintain and more durable in the long-run. Our design is based on the “10-frame Langstroth” box hive with a couple of key deviations:

  1. We eliminated the metal tracks that many people say must be used on the hives. The bees can propolis down the frames, but we haven’t found that to be a problem.
  2. We used dovetails to join the hive bodies rather than nails. Nails are expensive and not something that we can easily get. Plus, Pat believes that our dovetail joints will stand up to the elements that the beehives must go through throughout the seasons. That first hive we built in 2008 is already starting to get scraggly looking and it had A LOT of nice expensive nails in it. One of the basic rules of woodworking is that a nail placed into the end grain of a piece of wood will eventually come loose. This process is only made worse when the hive is subjected to the extremes of mid-western weather.
  3. We decided that to purchase the internal frames and not try to make any of those ourselves. Making the frames does not seem to be worth the safety risk to us (to buy them is only about $1/frame unassembled) because the cuts necessary to make the frames on a table saw come really close to your fingers. So, we choose to buy premade frames. We have also decided to buy true beeswax frames and no longer like the plastic foundation (because we notice our bees don’t like to pull it out and make comb on it). These are the frames and beeswax foundation that we typically purchase:

Using dovetails to join the boxes does involve some skill with hand-tool woodworking methods but Pat has found the process to be much more enjoyable than spending hours hovering over a table saw which generates a lot of dust and noise. Cutting the dovetails in the soft pine wood is much easier and does not have to be done with the exact precision that would be typically required of a piece of fine furniture constructed with a hard wood like cherry or walnut.

Pat demonstrates our method of beehive woodenware construction in the series of videos below:

Playlist of Making the Langstrogh Type Beehives using Dovetails

Hedgeapple Hypothesis

Hypothesis: Hedgeapples can be a food source adjunct for our chickens in early spring/late winter.

Observation: For the past couple of years, I have noticed that the chickens go up the hill a little ways and eat the softened hedgeapples. The hedgeapples must be softened which is accomplished by the rain and snow over time. Cutting the hedgeapples seems to speed up the softening process.

Further Observation needed: We have collected much of the hedgeapples from our hill and brought them closer to the house and chickens for closer observation and inspection.

Hedeapples gathered November 2011 from the Sledding hill

A hedgeapple is a bright green bumpy fruit from the Osage Orange female tree, there is also a male tree that is needed for pollination. I’m not sure how the Osage Orange pollinates, but I am speculating that pollinators like honeybees must play a part. This year, we had a great apiary of bees and we have also had a huge harvest of hedgeapples (could be coincidental, I guess). Most places I have gone to to do research on the Hedgeapple states that they are non-edible, but that has not been my observation. It was just recently that I came across Green Deane’s opinion on the Hedgeapple. He says they are edible, you just may need to get pretty hungry to make the fermentation process to get to the ripened seeds worth the trouble to eat the seeds.

In my opinion, there is no way pioneers would have paid the amount of money they did to plant Osage Orange tree hedgerows on the property if the fruit weren’t useful in some way. I believe that our goats have even eaten softened hedgeapples (but, I don’t want to recommend that, because it sounds like animals such as horses and cows can be suffocated by choking on hedgeapples which is why the hedgeapples have been called inedible.)

So, the experiment will go on and I will document my chickens eating Hedgeapples as they soften. I would like to find more ways to feed my chickens with our local resources, so I am on the lookout and if anyone has any anecdotes, I would love to hear them. Thanks!

Here is a playlist of a couple of videos of the hedgeapples around our yard and some of the chickens:

My husband found some proof that at least one chicken finds the softened hedgeapples tasty!

Anatomy of Trail Building at Locust Farms

One of our goals at Locust Farms is to let the available resources determine what we do with the property rather than try to force-fit something that the land was not designed to support.  For example, the main reason we started producing Maple Syrup was simply because Sugar Maple trees are a prominent resource that are available to us and were not being utilized.  About 80% of the property here at Locust Farms is densely wooded, hilly, and inherently inaccessible.  In order to unlock the potential of our land, we needed some trails.

Not long after moving in, we had invited some friends over for lunch who had some experience with trail building. Brian and Amanda Holzhausen own a series of mountain bike and trail running races ( and have been very active in the construction of trails in Indiana such as the 10-mile loop around Westwood Park in New Castle, Indiana.  We walked with them in the woods, asked a lot of questions, and got some great ideas about how to design a system of trails for our property.

Absolutely the best resource for designing sustainable trails is called “Trail Solutions” and was developed by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA):

Using the principles outlined in the IMBA book, we started construction on our trails in late 2007 and now have about 2-miles of trail winding throughout our property.

Some of the First Trails Constructed At Locust Farms in 2007

Our trails are designed to be sustainable while offering a more interesting journey through the woods than would be provided by a more traditionally-designed trail system. Sustainability is achieve by minimizing both the trail’s impact on the land and the resources required to maintain the trail. The trail should “flow” with the terrain so that it actually becomes a part of the land rather than something that is constructed “through” the land.

Moving water is the biggest enemy of a trail. The trail should generally follow the natural contour lines (lines of constant elevation) so that water travelling down a hill will sheet across the trail rather than travel along it. The trail should also provide ample opportunities for any water that does make it onto the trail to exit as soon as possible. Keeping the grade of the trail below 10% also helps to limit the speed of any water that does start to travel along the trail.

There are several tools that can be used for trail building and different tools will work better depending on the soil and terrain involved. We have determined that the tools shown here are the best for our situation:

Trail Building Tools

The tool on the left is called a “Rhino” and is best for quickly rough-cutting a trail into the side of a hill. The Rhino is essentially a heavy-duty hoe with a rounded face and a sharpened edge. I purchased mine online from the National Fire Fighter Corp. They can also be obtained directly from Rogue Hoe.

The tool on the right is a heavy-duty mason’s hoe that I purchased from The Home Depot. I then sharpened the front edge so that I can easily scrape the trail tread to create a flat finished surface. This works similar to the Rhino, but the flat edge on the mason’s hoe makes it easier to use for the final finishing of the tread.

We talk about these principles and demonstrate the method we use for trail building in the series of videos below.


Trail Construction Video (Part 1 of 4)

Trail Construction Video (Part 2 of 4)

Trail Construction Video (Part 3 of 4)

Trail Construction Video (Part 4 of 4)

I have found the process of trail construction to be enjoyable in and of itself. The time required can be overwhelming, especially when working alone, but every bit adds up over time. I typically try to spend about 30-minutes per day for about 3 days every week. Besides, I figure the workout I get is more productive (and cheaper) than a gym membership.

Our Raw Honey is Crystallizing, You Can Still Use it

As you purchase our honey and thank you so much for choosing our honey for your family, you will notice that our honey is crystallizing, meaning, it is difficult to see through and it is not liquid, but thick and almost solid.  The honey has not gone bad, it is crystallizing which all raw (unheated honey) will do at some point, the timing depends on the type of nectar the bees used.  You do not need to keep the honey in the refrigerator, which will actually speed up the crystallization process.  Since it has been getting colder, our honey was in a non-heated room, so it crystallized faster than it would have if kept at room temperature (we may need to change our storage of honey in the future to slow the crystallization down).

We like to use our honey as a spread and spread it on toast and biscuits and things like that.  Anytime honey is called for in a recipe, I just use a dry measuring cup and treat the honey like I would peanut butter and scoop it into the cup.

You can also heat the honey a bit, if you like more liquid honey. ¬†Please don’t put it in the microwave, that can cause hot spots and can really burn you if it gets on your skin. ¬†You can gently heat it up under warm running water or in a gentle warming pan on the stove.

Our honey was never heated during our part of the processing (the bees themselves heat it with their wings to make it the proper moisture level when they are making it, before capping it off…which I think is so cool); ¬†it went straight from the comb into the extractor through a strainer, into a 5 gallon bucket and into the jars. ¬†We believe the raw qualities are worth the crystallization, so we don’t like to heat ours, but just use it like a spread.

We want you to love your pure, raw honey.  It is so filling and much stronger in flavor than any other honey we had bought at the store before we had harvested our own.  It did take some getting used to and we wanted to share what we have learned with you.  We hope that this blog posts helps you in using your honey when it crystallizes and you can continue to enjoy it.

This pdf is a great resource in learning about honey crystallization, what it’s made up of, when it¬†crystallizes¬†and ¬†the different nectar sources that¬†crystallize¬†at¬†different¬†rates.

Here is a blog post from a beekeeper in Las Cruces, New Mexico (where Pat proposed to me :), so I am partial to that area of the country) talking about raw honey and crystallization:


Making Nuc Candyboards for Over-wintering

This winter is the first time we have ever had nucs going into the winter. Maybe some of my gentle readers are not familiar with a “nuc”. It is a shortened term for a nucleus of a bee hive, meaning it has a queen and some frames with honeycomb and bees, but it is still young and small in size. Because of its age and size, the nuc didn’t have enough time to store the quantity of honey it takes to make it through the winter (honey is the carbs of the bee world, they need it to have energy to stay alive). We humans think of winter as just lasting through February, but to bees it is a little longer due to waiting for the first nectar plants to bloom (maple trees being some of the first). Those rainy days of March and April keep the bees inside too…they hate the rain, so if they can’t harvest their food, they need some reserves at that time as well, even if it isn’t technically winter anymore.

There are probably many recipes for making nuc candyboards out there and I am not here to say that the recipe that we use is the best, but I got the recipe from a trusted bee mentor, Danny Slabaugh, member of the Michiana Beekeepers Association. Plus I don’t like to reinvent the wheel that someone smarter than me invented already ūüôā Danny is the beekeeper that I bought my nucs from when I first started keeping bees in Spring 2008. I went back to buy nucs in 2009 and 2010 as well…did I go back the two hour drive just because of his bees, well, his bees are healthy and non-medicated…but I’ll share a secret with you. I went back to his place, because he packs the nucs and goes through his apiary (beeyard) with me while I am going around with him asking loads of questions that he patiently answers. I got an education from him each time I spent that time with him. He uses candyboards to get his summer-split nucs through the winter and he lives close to the Michigan state line; I thought these candyboards would probably work for me down here in central Indiana.

Here is Danny Slabaugh’s candyboard recipe (it was in a word document that we reformatted):

I enjoy the art of beekeeping as it is always work in process. I make a tray for a standard size hive candy board with the rim made of ¬ĺ‚ÄôX1.875‚ÄĚboards.
I drill a 2″ hole in the center of a 5.5″ 2X4 placed in the middle of a tray.

Danny Slabaugh's Picture and Candyboard

Start with a container that will hold 16 quarts of liquid or more and a good strong stirring device.
The heat source needs to have twice the BTU that a cook stove burner top would produce.
Bring one quart of water to full boil
Add ¬ľ cup of white vinegar
Slowly add three five pound bags of white sugar. stirring all the time.
This will boil down to soft fudgelike candy after 30-40 minutes and needs to reach 242 degrees.
Add optional ingredients
stirring all the time.
1 cup dry powder HFCS
This will allow you to add five more pounds of dry sugar.
Stir to soft ball. 242 degrees.
Turn off heat and stir in 1 cup of honey
stirring all the time.
Last whip in one oz of Honey ‚ÄďB- Healthy
Pour into a mold and cool off.

Here’s a link to Danny Slabaugh’s recipe on Mel Disselkoen’s website with some more details and pictures. ¬†We found this after making the recipe and this link has more details:

When we made the candyboards, we used the honey bee healthy and the honey, since we didn’t want to use the HFCS (I guess we didn’t understand the necessity to be able to add more sugar). ¬†We constructed two types of trays to use for the candy board molds. The frame on the left fits on top of a 10-frame hive whereas the frame on the right is designed for a 5-frame hive:

Empty Candy Board Frames

The trays are designed to be placed upside-down on top of the hive once the candy in the frame is hardened. This allows the bees to easily access the candy without moving far from the bee cluster. We also drilled a 3/4″ hole in front center of the tray (not shown in photo) and then covered the hole with hardware cloth. This hole provides an easy method for checking the amount of candy consumed by the bees without having to open the hive. The hole will also provide additional ventilation and could be used as a top-entrance in the summer once the candy is completely consumed.

To heat the sugar, we used an outdoor propane burner that was originally part of a turkey frying system we got at The Home Depot. We used an old pressure-canner for the pan which worked wonderfully since it is so thick and virtually eliminated the tendency for the sugar to scald during heating. We also constructed a long wooden paddle so we could stir the sugar without bending over the pan, but this was more of a convenience than a necessity. We found that the recipe above results in enough candy for a single 10-frame tray or two 5-frame trays.

It seemed that the candy boards were completely hardened in less than 24-hours. ¬†We placed the small candy boards on each of our nucs a few weeks ago and had the opportunity to check the hive during an unseasonably warm day. ¬†The bees had already discovered the board and had started eating away at the candy. ¬†We just completed construction of a series of full-size candy board frames that we are going to place on a few of our large hives that did not have time to store up enough honey before the foraging season ended. This should provide plenty of carbohydrates for the bees until spring and has provided us with a peace-of-mind that we haven’t had the past couple of winters. Stay warm out there, bees!