Growing up on The Freckled Farm: What 2012 has taught us

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It’s been an amazing year on The Freckled Farm. My husband and I purchased this property almost 5 years ago. It was simply a house on a piece of land in the country, and we have turned it into a live, active farm. All of these changes have happened in the last year. We spent 4 years working on making the house what we wanted, living as minimally as possible so we could pay for all of the “farm needs” outright, and having babies. We wanted the timing to be perfect and we have gotten it as close to perfect as possible. We went from all of our plans being on paper to coming to realization at breakneck speed. Once things started happening they REALLY started happening (The Freckled Farm).

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: What 2012 has Taught Us

What The Freckled Farm Has Taught Us In 2012

  1. Construction projects always take twice as long as you plan… which is very stressful when you have animals coming. Whether you are building a chicken coop yourself or hiring someone to do your bigger projects, like building your barn, the timeline will likely be doubled. The same goes for the cost of projects. While it might not be doubled it will always be more than you expect. Dad and Big B starting the chicken coop back in Feb 2012.Growing up on The Freckled Farm: What 2012 has Taught Us
  2. Chickens are beautiful and really personable creatures. I have to admit that I was not always a fan of birds. They are dirty and I have never understood having them as pets, but after a visit to my friend Gini’s farm in 2011 I started to warm up to the idea of having chickens. We added chickens to our farm in June of this year, and I will say that yes, they are dirty little creatures that poop everywhere, but they have really great personalities and we have grown to be very attached to them, especially Big B. When our chicks were only a few days old:Growing up on The Freckled Farm: What 2012 has Taught UsGrowing up on The Freckled Farm: What 2012 has Taught Us
  3. The six months or so that you are waiting for your pullets to start laying take forever. Somehow you can be saying “Wow Little B is almost 8 months old! Where has the time gone?” one minute than turn around and say “Seriously, the chickens are only 6 months old? When are these things going to start laying already? This is taking forever!!” the next… Doesn’t make a lot of sense. When you finally find that first egg it’s a pretty amazing feeling (We’ve got eggs!).
  4. Goats really keep you on your toes. They escape (The Great Escape) and you are constantly trying to make sure you don’t have any weaknesses in your fencing. Ours push past me when I open the pasture gate and make a beeline for the honeysuckle bushes. I have just gotten into the habit of letting them roam while I am doing farm chores. As you can see from the picture, I love my goats:Growing up on The Freckled Farm: What 2012 has Taught Us
  5. Not allowing Big B to do his farm chores is the worst punishment that I can give. This child loves his animals so much that keeping him from them and making him stay inside is a complete nightmare for him. This is a punishment for both of us though, because if he isn’t allowed to do his farm chores it means I have to do it! (Farm Chores)
  6. I learned how to administer vaccinations and managed to poke myself and hit a nerve on one of the goats on the first try, causing the goat to act stiff and uncomfortable the next few days… not my finest moment.
  7. You become very aware of all the noises coming from the woods when you have animals that you are trying to protect, which is why we are now adding a guard dog to our property… Not that our dogs aren’t doing a good job, but I doubt our 17 pound terrier mix and 37 pound basset hound can protect the goats and chickens from a bear or coyote.
  8. Seed catalogs can be a great teaching tool. Last year when I got my seed catalogs Big B was too young to get any real use out of them. I was also very pregnant and I decided to skip the garden. This year we are planning a huge garden and Big B and I are having a blast looking through the catalogs, talking about everything we can grow, how we can cook with them, and the nutritional values of the different fruits and vegetables. (Seed Catalogs)
  9. This year I discovered that my son really has a “way” with animals. They love him and there seems to be an understanding between them. It took him a little while to get used to each new species that we brought onto the farm (Adjusting to New Animals on the Farm) but in time he has developed a real relationship with every one of them. It’s an amazing thing to watch. Growing up on The Freckled Farm: What 2012 has Taught Us
  10. The farm has offered an education for my children that I never really anticipated and I have realized that it will teach them skills that they would not have learned otherwise. (The Benefits of Raising Children on a farm)

Our farm has grown at such an amazing rate in 2012. I can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store for us.



Growing up on The Freckled Farm: Farm Chores

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I have loved hearing from you guys about your farm dreams, farms, and the ways your children contribute. It’s so amazing to hear that so many children out there are having the same experiences, and have many of the same chores as Big B. Since I have gotten to hear about several of your children’s chore routines I thought it would be a great time to outline our daily farm chores.

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: Farm Chores

My husband generally does the morning chores before he leaves for work. He opens the hen house door so the chickens have access to their run, he opens the barn’s side door so the goats can go out to pasture, feeds the goats their morning grain, replaces the water if it is frozen, and feeds the dogs.

Any chores that happen after that are Big B and my responsibility. We check on the animals throughout the day, but the real chores don’t start until the end of the day. Around 4pm everyday Big B, Little B and I go out to do all of the evening chores. Little B sits in her stroller and watches, while Big B and I move our way through the farm caring for the animals.

Our first stop is the chickens. We start by letting them out of their coop so they can spend time pecking through the yard eating bugs, grass, and weeds. Their water gets nasty, so it has to be totally cleaned everyday, and because it is so nasty I don’t let Big B handle it. I take their water out of the coop, dump the old dirty water, spray down the waterer, and refill it. On the weekends I try to give it good cleaning inside and out with soap. Big B puts food in their feeder and will spread some sort of treat for them on the ground of their coop. I then check (if I hadn’t done it earlier in the day) to see if we have any eggs in the nesting boxes that need to be collected.

Next are the dogs. I generally care for the dogs alone while Big B marches around the yard with the chickens. Like all of the other animals they get fresh water and food.

Finally, there are the goats. Sometimes we let them out of the pasture so they can snack on honeysuckle and other treats that our yard has to offer that the pasture doesn’t. They generally follow us around while we finish our chores.

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: Farm Chores

I dump the goats’ water buckets and hand them over to Big B. He puts apple cider vinegar into both buckets, then fills them with water.

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: Farm Chores

This chicken (Blanche) loves Big B. She follows him around while he does his chores. They are best buds! As you can see he put some treats into the goats’ grain bowls for her. It might be why she likes him so much.

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: Farm Chores

While Big B is doing this I am adding fresh hay to the goat’s poly hay feeder.

The last goat chore is to get them their grain. Big B knows the mixture they require and recently he likes to do it himself. I help him get the grains that are too deep in the bin for him to reach. We are currently giving them grain, beet pulp and black oil sunflower seeds. When it gets colder we will add rolled oats and crumpled parsley.

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: Farm Chores

After about an hour to an hour and a half (or more if it is warmer) we close all of the animals back into their pins and head inside. We herd the chickens together, a job that Big B is quite good at, and lead them to their coop and make sure all of the locks on each pin are secure. In the evening, when my husband gets home, he locks the goats in the barn to keep them safe during the night and closes the hen house door so if a predator is able to dig into the coop they still can’t get to the chickens.

Weekends add special chores to our list. We have more time outside, and an additional person to help. The chicken run generally stays pretty clean. They scratch the poop back into the dirt, but we do rake it occasionally, especially when they are molting. Every few weeks we will scoop any poop that has accumulated in the hen house (generally, it only piles up under the perch) and lay new bedding. Since it is winter, and we are doing the deep bedding method, every weekend we lay new bedding on top of the old bedding in the goat barn. Once spring comes we will be mucking the barn several times a week. Once a week we also replace the goat minerals.

Farm chores change throughout the year, and these are only the chores that include the animals. Weekend yard work fills our schedule starting spring and continues into the fall. Spring also brings chores involving the garden, and as anyone who has had a farm knows there is always some project going on. There will be a time when we have goats to milk twice a day, and kid goats that need to be bottle fed every few hours. As our farm business grows… and turns into a real business… our chores will grow and grow. I, for one, welcome this growth.

This may seem like a lot but really everything is incredibly satisfying. I love to watch my son caring for the animals, and I get so much pleasure out of it myself. Farm work is some of the most gratifying work I have ever done.


Growing up on The Freckled Farm: We’ve Got Eggs… Finally

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Back in June we welcomed our first chicks to The Freckled Farm. People generally don’t get chicks in June, but Little B was born in April and we didn’t want to be taking care of chicks with a brand new baby in the house, or expect someone to care for the chicks or chickens while I was in the hospital. So, we waiting a little longer than we would have liked. On average it takes pullets 6 months to reach maturity and start laying. If you get your hens later in the year, like we did, you run the risk of them coming into maturity when the days are short and cold. If this happens the hens may end up waiting until spring to start laying.

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: We Have Eggs... Finally

Over the last few weeks I could tell that several of our hens had reached maturity, or at least were getting close, but they still weren’t giving us anything. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to buy eggs when you have hens at home that should be laying. I gave up, and resigned to the fact that we wouldn’t get anything until spring and on the 1st (the day the chickens turned 6 months old) I went grocery shopping and bought 2 dozen eggs. I was tired of buying a dozen at a time in hopes that it would the last eggs that I would have to purchase, and then having to run to the corner store to get more. Later that evening I was in the yard doing farm chores, the chickens had been roaming around the yard for several hours, and I was trying to herd them back into their coop. I put my hand over Sophia and she sat/submitted to me as if I were a rooster, which I read was a sign that chickens are ready to lay. I was excited for this new development, but for some reason I didn’t bother to check the nesting boxes at that time.

On Sunday the 2nd when I went to let the chickens out I decided to check the nesting box. I opened it up, and there, nestled in the straw and wood chips were two brown eggs! I can’t describe the feeling to seeing those eggs. I grabbed them add ran to show Big B, who was following the chickens around the yard, then ran to show my husband.

Because I hadn’t checked the box the day before and I didn’t know how many hens where laying, I did a float test (if they sink they’re good, if they float they’ve gone bad) to make sure they were both still good. Both sank so I decided that we would eat them before dinner and celebrate our farm’s growth.

I cracked them open to find these two beautiful yokes. Look how bright they are..

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: We Have Eggs... Finally

I made scrambled eggs. It was the quickest and easiest thing that I could think to make, that would allow us to taste the egg alone.

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: We Have Eggs... Finally

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: We Have Eggs... Finally

For week we got one egg a day from one chicken, Sophia. The rest looked like they were catching up to her, maturity wise, but none were really showing signs of laying. This past Saturday we had a friend over and I let the chickens out so she could see them. She put her hand over Topanga, and like Sophia had done to me the week before, she submitted. I looked in the nesting box to find an egg. An hour or so later we watched Sophia walk back into the coop, go into the nesting box, lay an egg, then go back to scratching for food with her sisters, proving that we now have two hens who are laying.

It’s Big B’s job to collect the egg(s) each day. What could be cuter than a little farm boy in his boots, doing chores?

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: We Have Eggs... Finally

The nesting box is a little high, so I still have to help him get the eggs out.

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: We Have Eggs... Finally

It’s so exciting, for us all, to get that egg(s) each day. Collecting eggs will one day lose it’s magic, but I hope he remembers what it was like to experience seeing those eggs for the first time. These are experiences that I want him to hold on to.

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: We Have Eggs... Finally

 Now if everyone else would catch up with Sophia and Topanga…

 



Growing up on The Freckled Farm: Adjusting to New Animals on the Farm

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Our farm, like most farms, is in a constant state of change. New animals move in or are born, seasons change, there is a time to plant and a time to harvest, all of these things change your chores and routine and for young children this can be jarring.

Growing up on The Freckled Farm: Adjusting to New Animals

Bringing a new animal onto the farm is much like bringing home a new baby, especially if it is a whole new species of animal. New routines need to be established, and the animals needs to be introduced to any person or animal that they will come in contact with often. It’s an adjustment for the farm’s human and animal residents… new and old.

For small children some animals can be intimating. This is a problem that we are running to with Big B and the goats. Big B has an extreme fear of large dogs. There was a large dog that lived at one of the houses in front of us last year. He was only a puppy, but he was huge, and would jump on people. At first the owner didn’t pin him, and after we complained the owner had terrible trouble keeping him pinned no matter how hard he tried, so the dog kept coming onto our property. Big B was terrified of the dog and for a long time, until the puppy went to live at a new home, Big B flat out refused to go outside. Now, almost a year later, Big B still has trouble with big dogs, and because of the goats’ size, he is also scared of the them. He wants to spend time with them. He loves feeding them and he asks daily if we can go “walk” the goats, which consists of walking around their pasture while they follow us, but once actually in the pasture, after a short time of having them in his face, he starts to get nervous and panics. We are working on it daily by exposing him to them in short spurts and having him interact with them from outside of the fence, but I can see that it’s going to be some time before he is completely comfortable with them. I also know this is only one of the many adjustments that Big B and Little B will have to make over the next few years.

Advice on Introducing Children to New Animals:

  • Children, especially young children, should be introduced to the new animals slowly. Don’t put them around the animal for long periods of time in the beginning. The animal needs time to get used to the child as well. Remember this is a change for the animal and they may behave out of character.
  • Allow there to be space (fence) between the child and animal for the first few interactions with livestock – See above
  • The child needs to be taught that they are still animals and can, at times, have wild tenancies. Establish a set of rules that promote safety (ie: Keep your face out of the chicken’s face, don’t get on the ground around the goats, wash your hands after being around the animals, etc)
  • Have the child feed the animal treats. Teach the child the proper way of feeding treats (with a flat hand) to avoid fingers being nibbled.
  • Demonstrate the proper way to deal with/handle the animal.
  • If your child is afraid allow them to see you interacting with the animal a few times a day. This will help the child to learn how to properly treat the animal, and gives them an idea of what to expect from the animal behavior wise.
  • Understand it may take time and don’t force the child into situations where they are truly uncomfortable.
Change is not easy for anyone but with time and work everyone can learn to live together.

 


Growing up on the Freckled Farm

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In my tag ling I state that we are a “young rural family” but other than my post about the Educational Value of Backyard Chickens I haven’t really talked about our farm. So, I decided that it was time to start a weekly series on the things happening on The Freckled Farm and how they affect/involve our children (mostly Big B at this time) and their education.

Our Farm’s Background

I guess you are starting to wonder why everything I do is named “Freckled.” It’s not that I have an obsession with freckles themselves, although I do love them, it has more to do with our children’s names. Both Big B and Little B’s names mean “Freckled.” We wanted our farm’s name to be family related, and freckles have become our family theme.

My husband and I have always talked about having a farm. At first it was our retirement dream. We were going to move out to the country, raise a couple of dairy goats (a childhood dream of mine) and work on becoming self-sustaining. We were happy living in the city at the time, and weren’t really ready to be out in the middle of no where. After I graduated college we left Richmond, VA, and moved to Philadelphia. We wanted access to bigger cities, and had plans to renovate and flip a house. Well… we had terrible luck and many very scary experiences that year, so we sold the house (luckily before the housing market crashed) and moved back to VA. As we started to discuss having children the country seemed like the best place to raise them. We were also looking for space, peace, and privacy, so we decided to move up our farming plans.

A year after moving back to VA we found our sweet little farm, although at the time it was just a house on some property. It only had a shed and lean-to. No where to keep animals, and absolutely no fencing. It was also less property than we were hoping to get, but we quickly learned that land is expensive, and when we found the perfect house we were willing to make the compromise and make due with just 3 acres. Come to find out years later 3 acres is a lot to maintain and plenty of room for all of our plans.

Fast forward almost 5 years and here we are; 2 children, 6 chickens, a deluxe chicken coop built by my handy husband, a barn, fencing in progress and goats waiting to move in. It has been such an amazing adventure for all of us and it just continues to get better and better.

This farm will play a large role in my children’s education and I am excited to share it with all of my readers, especially over the next few weeks as we finish up our fencing and prepare for our first goats to move onto the farm!

Be sure sure subscribe to my blog (enter your email in the widget in the right hand border) so you never miss a new installment of “Growing up on The Freckled Farm” 

Images from The Freckled Farm

Tina – Moving in on November 18th:

Hillary – Moving in on November 18th:

My favorite picture from the farm. Big B supervising the chickens:

Our Chicken Coup:

Our Barn:


Educational Value of Backyard Chickens

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When I decided to add chickens to our farm I wasn’t thinking about their educational value. I just wanted pretty birds that ate bugs and provided eggs. It wasn’t until after the chickens were grown and had been in their coop for a while that it really hit me how the whole thing was a great educational experience for my son… It just goes to show how much you learn just living life

Educational Value of Backyard Chickens

Building the Coop

I found a picture of a coop that I liked online and asked my husband to build it for me. He and Big B spent the next few months working. I was very pregnant with Little B, so I mostly lounged around.  Big B spent hours outside “helping” his dad build the coop, which mostly consisted of him drawing on the wood and pretending to hammer, but he was there through the whole process and showed interest in each step. Every few minutes you would hear “Ok what’s next dad” and when he got an answer it was always followed up with a “Why?” He was taking it all in and would explain to me what was going on when I would come out to check on them. Months later he is still extremely proud of the work that he did with his dad. If you go within 5 feet of the coop he will tell you all about how he and his dad built it.

Chicks

Big B was not allowed to touch the chicks (see warning) but he loved watching them and observed me taking care of them. Like with everything, he was full of questions and learned a great deal about chickens in the few weeks that they lived in the brooder in the house.

Taking Care of the Chickens

Big B now helps to care for the chickens in many ways. He helps spread scratch, he collects plants (mostly dandelions) around the yard that he knows they like, and he helps “herd” them back into their coop. Since we have hawks, and hunting dogs that make their way onto our property we only let the chickens free range when we are outside. During those times he watches them and observes their behaviors. When we have guest he teaches them about his chickens. He talks about the chicken’s behaviors and eating habits, including the time he saw them catch a frog!

Benefits of Backyard Chickens for Children:

  • Taking care of pets teaches responsibility and respect for animals.
  • Watching animals grow from babies teaches about the life cycle.
  • Observing the chickens laying eggs aids in teaching children where their food comes from.
  • Being able to collect food (eggs) gives the children a sense of self-sufficiently.
  • Observing the chickens free range teaches about chickens’ behaviors and feeding habits
  • And on top of everything having backyard chickens provides your family with wonderful fresh eggs and hours and hours of entertainment.

Warning:

Many suggest that you wait until all children in the household are above the age of 5 before adding chickens to your family. I have known many families, like us, who have had chickens and young children at the same time. The issue is that chicks from hatcheries and chickens can carry diseases, like salmonella, and it is important to wash your hands thoroughly after handling them. It is harder to ensure that children under 5 will keep their hands out of their mouth, nose or eyes while handling chicks and chickens. Salmonella can also have a more damaging effect on young children. Be very careful with your chicks because, even though it is extremely rare, they can pick up salmonella from the hatchery, and be sure to keep your coop clean and take measures to keep rodents and wild birds out of your chickens’ coop and feed, so they don’t catch Salmonella as adults. We don’t let Big B touch the chickens. He helps take care of them without actually coming in direct contact with them. Always keep in mind that they are wild animals and you should never be totally trusted. Keep an eye on your child at all times and practice good hygiene.