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Yesterday was a very good chicken day.  Everyone was much improved over Wednesday.  I was concerned about a tiny chick that slept most of Wednesday–but a good night’s sleep combined with vitamin enriched water and plenty of starter feed had him/her perking right up.  I did encounter several clogged vents over the course of the day, so I spent a lot of time cleaning chicken behinds.  One chick was having particular trouble with his/her vent and I was pretty worried–but we seemed to develop an understanding as the day progressed.  I looked the chick in the eye and said, “I really need to see you poop.  I need to know that your belly is getting better.”  The chick stretched its tiny wings and obliged.  And his/her vent has looked very good ever since!

This little chick is one of two with whom I have formed a bond.  The other runs to the side of the brooder (Harper’s old pool surrounded by and topped with wire and filled with pine shavings) to visit every time I go into the basement.  Last night I realized that if I put my hand out (s)he will hop right into my palm–and peck at my fingers or wedding ring.  I was soooo excited about this that I scurried upstairs and hauled Matt down to witness my great accomplishment.  Not long after he left the little chick looked up at me and launched him/herself right through the wire!  I managed to catch the little escape artist–(s)he landed in my hand–and send him/her right back into the brooder.  Then I tore upstairs and reported the news to Matt and we surrounded the larger fencing with fencing with smaller openings.  We did not think that the chicks would be jumping or attempting to fly for a few weeks.  Oops.  But, I think that our chicks are probably advanced (look at me bragging about my little ones); when I was picking up chick grit (to help with the pasted vents) at the farm store in Osceola the gentleman helping me said that I wouldn’t need to worry about providing perches for a month or two.  Someone should tell our chicks that–because they climb and perch on their feeder.

They are starting to get tail feathers and their wings are starting to feather out.  A few even have combs appearing above their beaks.  You may have noticed that I refer to the chicks as (s)he, him/her–this is because we have a straight run of chicks.  Chicks are difficult to sex (apparently you have to examine their vents.  I have spent a fair amount of time examining vents over the past few days and they all look the same to me.) so we won’t know the gender make-up of our flock for awhile.  I am not comfortable calling a chick “it” and am too much of a feminist to refer to them generally by a masculine (or feminine, really) pronoun.  So, please bear with me.

I thought that I would include a quick planting update.  Apple trees (2), cherry trees (2), pear trees (4), and hazelnut trees (3) are in the ground.  So are strawberry plants.  A variety of peppers along with tomatoes, garlic, and eggplants are still under grow lights in the basement.  We have a couple of  heirloom varieties of tomatoes–Cherokee Purple and Brandywine– purchased at the River Market plant sale growing on the porch.  Everything that can go in this weekend will be planted in the raised beds that Matt (and I, but only a little) constructed.  The cabbage seeds are currently in my purse.  I should probably do something about that.

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Chicks–Day 1

Ten Black Copper Marans chicks arrived at the Stillwater, Minnesota Post Office early on Wednesday morning. They left a Post Office in Kentucky at 2pm on Monday and I was pretty nervous about their arrival. I was worried about the two days of traveling and I was worried that I didn’t know enough to take care of ten baby chicks.

Matt did all of the chicken reading. I was busy finishing up the semester and thought that I would learn all that I needed to know about raising chickens as soon as classes were finished. I didn’t do a very good job. Matt was very happy with “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens”–which provides a very complete how-to. I found the book a little intimidating (and, frankly, was unimpressed with “Storey’s Guide to Raising Goats.” The opening lines read something like…”So you think that you want to raise goats. Well, you don’t. You’re not smart enough or dedicated enough or good enough to raise goats. Let me tell you why.” I understand that goats are a lot of work and that raising them is not for the faint of heart. But the author had me completely terrified of goats, and feeling pretty bad about myself, in the first paragraph of the introduction. I guess that I am not good enough to raise goats.) Anyway, the Storey chicken book was almost too much information for me, at least right away. I needed the equivalent of “Chickens for Dummies.” I found it in the adorable “Chick Days: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens from Hatching to Laying,” which I picked up at Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply in St. Paul. Chick Days provided a day-by-day account of the first week of chick-rearing followed by weekly rundowns. I read the entire book, but practically memorized everything about the first week. I found this to be a much easier approach for me. Sometimes I find that knowing a lot about something is actually not useful for me; I zero in on all of the very scary possibilities and am riddled with fear; Chick Days was the opposite of frightening.

I learned that I would need to check the chicks’ vents as soon as I took them out of the box (and several times a day after) to make sure that no one had found themselves with a case of traveler’s diarrhea that clogged his or her vent (the vent is the chicken’s all-purpose chute). I learned that chicks will fall asleep right away-sometimes standing up-after having a little sugar water and starter feed because they are tired and a little stressed after their journey. These were useful things to know. Three chicks had clogged vents (easily remedied by a warm washcloth and patient chicks) and everyone was exhausted.

Two of the chicks were very small and one was GIGANTIC. I suspect that Big Bird, as I am calling him/her, is more than 4 days old. I am glad that he/she survived the trip. Over the course of the day everyone ate, slept, drank vitamin enriched water, and chirped. I monitored vents and cleaned several chicken behinds.

They kick pine shavings into their water fount and food dishes. They step all over one another, fall asleep standing up, and travel in a pack. By 9:30pm on Wednesday night they were sound asleep in fluffy piles of black feathers–it was hard to tell where one chick ended and another began.

I am hooked.

the chicks in their shipping box

Things are crazy here at the farm.  I am in my last week of school with a take-home history final and an extensive annotated bibliography for my independent study remaining.  This past Friday found me putting 9 hours into the remaining 3 pages of a brief for my public policy class.  I think that my entire undergraduate English thesis took me 3 hours total.  They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…and that has certainly been true of my first year of graduate school!  It’s also true of my husband.  He never says “Gee, Tamara, maybe if you spent less time writing blog posts about other men and more time working on your take-home final, you wouldn’t be so stressed out.”  Instead he plants trees and takes the station wagon in to have the alignment adjusted and makes dinner and does the laundry so that I can spend 9 hours finishing a policy brief.  He probably wants to kill me but chooses to make me stronger.

The “other men” in my life this spring (aside from Harper, Atticus, and Truman) are Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, the perfectly charming couple known as “The Fabulous Beekman Boys.”  I first encountered them in the December 2010 issue of Country Living.  This spring I got around to downloading the first season of their Planet Green show from iTunes.  They. Are. Amazing!  Brilliant, funny, and incredibly hard-working, they are the new-to-farming farmers that I wish I could be.  They handle the challenges of trying to make a farm, a relationship, and careers work with love, grace, and a sense of humor.  They fight, of course.  And it’s because of their fights that I have encouraged Matt to watch their show and to read Josh’s book The Bucolic Plague.  They have the fights that we have–or will have in the future.  Brent wants things that need to be practical to be pretty and Josh occasionally wants to take a break and sit down and have a drink.  Okay, so these are arguments that we will have because of things that I want.  But, we can learn so much from what Josh and Brent have accomplished–I look to their experiences to avoid mistakes of my own (of course, they have a lot more farm than we do.  Twice as much acreage, none of which appears to be dominated by a creek.  Probably three times as much house to care for.  But, they also have a care-taker, Farmer John, and his herd of goats.  And the break-out star of their show, their llama, Polka Spot).  The Bucolic Plague made me laugh until I cried and cry until I laughed; and I read it in one night.  We have stocked the farm with tiny guest sized bars of their hand-made goat-milk soap.  I admire their talent, their unparalleled work ethic, and their commitment to sharing their success with the town of Sharon Springs, New York.    They inspire me and they make me laugh.

And I have a little crush on Josh Kilmer-Purcell.  I recently ordered his first book I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir recounting Josh’s experiences as an ad-man by day drag queen by night.  It’s taking forever to get here…it’s like Amazon knew that I had other things that I should be working on.  Which I do.  So, I should probably get back to them.

Cheese News

For anyone interested in a cheese update…we’ve got at least a month to go. Matt opened the wine refrigerator the other day and an awful smell came wafting out. Initially I thought that the smell might have come from one of the dogs. No such luck. It’s the cheese. Matt swears that it smells like Parmesan, I think that it smells like feet. Since there are a fair number of cheeses that smell like feet, I guess that means that we’re on the right track.

Seeds, Trees, and Chicks

I realize that it’s been months since we’ve shared any news from the farm. We’ve been busy with school and dogs and work and…making plans for our spring planting! Seeds and trees have been ordered! And chickens have come down to a few finalists.

For the vegetable garden we have ordered tomatoes, zucchini, butternut squash, corn, bell peppers, watermelon, assorted lettuces, spinach, beans, green onions, carrots, kale, jalapenos, and cucumbers. We have already sowed pumpkins and acorn squash. In order to organize and manage our planting we subscribed to the Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden Planner. It allows us to map out our garden, sends email reminders about sowing and planting times, and suggests how we should rotate our crops each year to avoid pests and prevent soil depletion.

For the orchard we plan to plant pear trees, apple trees, cherry trees, and hazelnut trees. We are also looking to plant strawberries and raspberries (to supplement those that are already growing wild).  I also want to plant native wildflowers along the perimeter of the orchard…they’re pretty and they attract bees.  I harbor dreams of keeping bees, but that project is a few years down the road.

We also ordered a bunch of lilac bushes to plant alongside the barn and some evergreens to plant along the road to enclose the lawn and limit some of the traffic sounds.

As for chickens, I think that Orpington’s are the leading contenders. Either Buff or Black. Orpington’s are a mild-mannered dual-purpose chicken that are supposed to be good for beginners. We primarily want the chickens for eggs, but as we have been having a difficult time finding humanely raised free-range chicken we wanted a breed that we could slaughter. Whether or not, after raising the chickens from chicks, I’ll actually be okay with that is another issue all together. Due to some health issues I am not physically in a place where I am comfortable giving up meat, but just thinking about eating one of the chickens that we are going to raise fills me with anxiety. Whatever happens, I do anticipate that I will look at everything that we eat in an entirely new way.

This feels like a pretty ambitious plan for the coming summer. Physically and emotionally. Our first major project will be digging the well in the orchard and then planting the trees. We’re hoping that the ground will be ready for us to begin work the second weekend of April. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on our progress!

Very Local Cheese

As many of you know, Matt and I are firm believers in shopping local whenever possible.  Particularly when it comes to our food.   For the past year and a half Matt has served as president of the board of River Market Community Co-op in Stillwater, and we do as much of our food shopping at the co-op as we can.  River Market does a great job of indicating which of their products are produced locally through signage and stickers.   What constitutes “local” can be somewhat subjective, which is why we, Matt in particular, are a bit frustrated that the “local” Parmesan at the co-op is made by Sartori Foods.  Sartori is a Wisconsin-based company, but there are many great cheese makers in Minnesota and Wisconsin that are much closer to Stillwater than Sartori.  And Matt really wants locally made Parmesan cheese.

So, this Christmas I bought Matt a Parmesan cheese making kit from Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply in St. Paul.  If you live in the area and you haven’t been to Egg|Plant, I highly recommend a trip.  It’s a very fun store.  And it’s right down the block from The Blue Door and their delicious Breakfast Blucy!!  Anyway, I figured that one couldn’t get much more local than cheese made right here on Horse Creek Farm!

I presented Matt with his kit with  great fanfare…only to find that I had unwittingly purchased the display box…which was empty.  Very embarrassing.  I called Egg|Plant and found out that they had been going through their facebook fans and calling people with names similar to what they could make out from my signature on the credit card slip.  What fantastic customer service!!  Matt exchanged the empty box for a full kit and is currently in the kitchen heating 2 gallons of Crystal Ball Farms whole milk  (Crystal Ball Farms milk, butter, and cream is available at our local hardware store!  This was one of my favorite things about our move!  We can buy organic milk at the hardware store!!) to a precise 90 degrees to begin the process of making our own Parmesan cheese.  We will need to age the cheese a minimum of 3 months…so we’ll let you know how it turns out this spring!

***Update***

Matt is using the remaining whey to make ricotta!!

Laundry Bags

A few months ago I was perusing the French General website and came across this beautiful laundry bag:

I absolutely loved the bag and thought that it would be a great solution for our laundry situation.  If you have ever lived in an old house, you know that closet space is non-existent.  We have a “walk-in” closet in our bedroom which is just big enough to hold Matt’s clothes.  My clothes have taken up residency in the smallest guest bedroom/nursery.  As we do not currently need a nursery, it is a suitable home for my extensive wardrobe.  This lack of closet space means that our laundry sits sorted in baskets in the upstairs hallway until laundry day because we don’t have anywhere else to stash it.   We explored assorted attractive basket options; I loved the French Wire Hamper from Pottery Barn but wasn’t sure that we would have enough room in the bedroom for several hampers.  And I wasn’t crazy about the $149 price tag.  I thought that pretty laundry bags would be fantastic because we could hang them from hooks on the small wall between the bathroom and the door in our bedroom.  We have an assortment of clever hooks, including one from the farm house where Matt’s maternal grandmother grew up (a very thoughtful housewarming gift from Aunt Mary), from which the pretty bags could hang.  Unfortunately, the French General bag is $125; a little out of our price range for a handful of bags in which to stash our laundry; and we wanted several so that we could sort our clothes in the bags.  So, my incredibly talented husband made bags for us!

He used organic hemp for its breathable qualities and cotton rope for the drawstring.  I ironed on quilt squares from the French General “Lumiere de Noel” collection.    Here is an example of our handiwork:

Each of our laundry bags contains a red accent to match our bedroom rug.   I think that Matt did a really wonderful job and I can’t wait to hang them in the bedroom.  He even made a few smaller bags for dry cleaning and delicates.  And one to stash in our suitcase when we travel!  I am so lucky to be married to such a multi-talented guy!