Friday, February 27, 2009

The Chicks Have Arrived! by, Emily

Last Friday, Dad ordered 25 Gold star laying hens, and two roosters. Yesterday, (Thursday) we woke up to Dad saying, "Time to get up! The post office just called and said our chicks are in!" 'What a great way to start my day!' I thought as I made my bed. After chores, me, Dad, Ben, and Jonny all jumped into the truck, turned the heat on high, and zoomed off to the post office to pick up the day-old chicks.
Of course, the ride to the post office seemed to take much longer than usual! When we finally arrived, me and Jonny hopped out, and ran to the door, rang the bell, and waited. About 30 seconds later, the door opened, and the postman handed us a box with loud peeps coming from it! Our chicks! We got into the now-very-warm truck, and began the ride home.
Excitedly, we opened the box and petted and played with the chicks on the way home. It isn't often you get to play with baby chicks in the truck! :) They were all very healthy, and peeping so loud it hurt my ears! When we arrived home, Dad ran into the house, and filled up the chick's waterer with luke-warm water, then brought it back and drove out to the chicken coop in the truck. (It was too cold to carry the box out).

Upon arriving, we took the box of peeping fluff-balls into the coop, and put them one-by-one into the pen, dipping their beaks in the water, a process which we do every time, so they know where the water is. When they were all in the pen, they huddled together in a small bunch, directly under the heat lamp. Because they continued to do this, we hung up another heat lamp, and then, since they showed no progress of warming up, put a small heater in their pen. Not long after, they were running around, warm, happy and peeping. In a few hours, Dad went out to check on them, and gave them a small feeder filled with starter feed. Right before chicks hatch, they "eat" the yolk inside of the egg, enabling them to be without food for the next day or so, thus they can be shipped through the mail, and they don't have to be given food right away. The chicks are very happy in their new home, and as cute as could be! :)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Building the Milking Stand

Today we had another carpentry class for the boys. Unfortunately Ben had a dentist appointment so he missed out on most of it. The task today was to build a milking stand for our goats. For those of you that have never milked a goat (I am still part of that group for another three weeks), a "milking stand" is a platform that the goat stands on for milking. A goat being much shorter than a cow would require a person to almost stand on their head to milk it. The milking stand also has a built in stanchion - a device that goes around the goats neck to keep it from moving around too much. This component is also called a "head gate".

With Emily running the camera, taking video and photos, Jonny and I built this together in about three hours. Of course it would have been quite a bit quicker, but trying to direct a video shoot while helping a young man develop his carpentry skills slowed things down considerably. (By the way, if anyone likes to edit video, I have some footage I need to compile. I thought it would be fun to post on YouTube.)

The plans for this milking stand were downloaded from

Sunday, February 22, 2009

To Prune a Fruit Tree

Well, it is that time of year again. Every February I clean and sharpen the pruning shears and go to work on the trees in our orchard. While I wouldn't consider myself an expert, I've done a lot of reading on the subject over the years, and have become fairly proficient at giving our trees their annual trim job.

There are several reasons to prune: to keep the trees healthy, to control size, and to improve quantity and quality of the fruit. There are lots of techniques and tips for doing the job, my favorite book on the subject is "The Pruning Book" by Lee Reich. Every year I check it out from the library to refresh my mind on what I'm doing, and to learn about how to prune whatever new things I planted the year before.

When it comes to planting trees, my wife will attest that I am somewhat of a fanatic. Every year we've lived on our farm I've planted at least one tree, but often times many more. We started our orchard the second year on the farm. We have twenty-three apple trees, four pear, three apricot, three plum, two cherry, and two peach. The plum, cherry, and peach are new additions in the last couple of years. All the other tree plantings have been ornamental trees, shade trees, and windbreaks. And of course all of these trees need to be pruned!

So yesterday I spent most of the day in our orchard heading-back and thinning out the branches on our fruit trees. Muttering about the rebellious ways that these trees like to grow, anguishing over which branches to take out, and dreaming of large luscious fruit next summer (ok, I am exaggerating a bit on that last point) made for a mentally and physically exhausting day. As you can see by the trailer full of branches, there were lots and lots of branches that met their demise, my hand was aching by the end of it all. Now, all I have left is the another 100 or so of the other trees to prune this week.

All these labors have paid off though. Two years ago we had a nice crop of apricots, last year we got our first pear and had a bumper crop of apples (the picture shows just a portion of the harvest). We look forward to many more years of eating fruit fresh from the tree, the most delicious way on earth.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Deworming Day on the Farm

One of the lovely things about outdoor animals is their ability to host internal parasites. The only way to know for sure that a critter has worms is to take a sample of their "daily deposits" to a vet for examination with a microscope. We don't do that, but it is pretty safe to say our animals are no different than any others, and so we take precauctions to ensure our goats and sheep are not overrun by parasites. (If you are really interested in this topic, see

So this week we did some "deworming". The traditional method involves getting the animal to ingest some chemical designed to kill the worms. In past times we have used these, but never on any animals that were destined for the dinner table. This year thankfully we discovered a more natural solution - garlic. Google is our friend! Through some online searching I found someone that has spent many years researching this topic and has found garlic to be very effective.
Armed with this new knowledge, I mixed up the recipe of garlic and molasses thinned down a bit with water, and headed to the barn with my drenching syringe. This handy little tool is like a doctor's syringe but bigger. Instead of a needle on the end, it has a long metal tube. This is placed in the back of the sheep or goat's mouth, and the contents of the syringe are emptied out. Presto! The animal swallows its medicine like a good little boy or girl. On our farm, Brandon is the nurse and I am the doctor. He holds the critter still, while I administer the garlicy treat.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Almost Ready to Milk Goats

Today we put the final wraps on the the milk room in our barn. We ran a temporary electric wire over the frozen tundra to our chickencoop. After spring thaw we will trench one underground. Then we hung some nice used cabinets that our friend Tim Aamot from Cokato gave us. (Tim did our kitchen cabinets several years ago, and did a beautiful job. He also builds hope chests --

Now I need to get a milking stand made. This is a raised platform that the goat stands on while being milked. Since goats aren't very tall, it makes it easier on the back of the milkmaid. It is a good deal for the goat too, they get a treat of grain while being milked. I found some plans on the internet, and hope to build the stand next week with the boys (another shop class project).

In addition to the milking stand, we need to get a stainless steel milkpail, some filtering equipment, and other odd-and-ends. Then, I'll find out just how sincere all those family members that said "I'll milk the goat" really were!!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

President's Day

Today we celebrated President's Day at the Emmanuel Home with our friend Myrtle and the other residents there. The Chaplin had called us a couple weeks ago, and asked if our family would be willing to do some entertainment. The children played patriotic songs on the piano, and we sang a song together. It was fun. The residents loved it, of course. Since life in a nursing home can be somewhat monotonous, the residents always appreciate when people come and fellowship with them in some way.
After the music, the staff entertained them with some trivia games, and gave away prizes. It was a blessing to see the smiles and the laughter as the residents won patriotic stuffed animals. Our children even won some candy, which they were thrilled about, because they don't get to eat candy very often. :)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Shop Class

Every weekday Ben and Jonny have a "shop class" with me (Mike) for about an hour. Its a break time for me from my computer related work, and a good time for them to get some fresh air. Also, this is the time for their primary teacher (mom) to work with Brandon and Emily on grammar and writing. Normally during this time, either I help them with little projects at their workbench in the garage, or they help me on one of my projects.

Since I returned from Mexico, the focus has been mostly on my projects around the farm. In January, Mindy and I put together a list of all the various things that needed to be done by spring and tried to prioritize it by how soon they needed to be done. The top items on the list were related to our first mama goat having her kid(s) around March 15th. When we built the new pole barn last fall, I designated an area to be the "milk room", we poured the concrete and framed walls for it last fall, and now we are plugging away at getting the rest completed.

In light of that, during the last few weeks, my shop class has had a wide variety of courses offered:
  • Electrical 101 - pulling wires, wiring outlet boxes, switches, and lights.
  • Insulation 101 - cutting and fitting friction fit fiberglass bats.
  • Carpentry 101 - cutting and screwing OSB sheeting to walls and ceiling.
  • Advanced Carpentry - installing a prehung door (I consider this "advanced", because as simple as it should be, I've not gotten very not good at this yet).
  • Painting 101 - priming and painting with brushes and rollers (Ben's favorite class, he loves painting).
On weekends, often times we have all day classes with more intense learning experiences. Usually the teacher's assistant (Brandon) gets involved and we gets lots more done than we can with the short time slots available during the week.

Below are a few pictures from us doing the insulation work. Lest you think that dad is the only one getting any projects done, I included a picture of the boys applying varnish to some "treasure boxes" they built.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Farm Girl (by Emily Housman)

Hello everyone! My name is Emily, and I am 12 years old. The 2nd oldest of the Housman Family. First off, I would like to say that I would not trade my wonderful life on the farm away for any thing else. I am surrounded by three wonderful brothers-Brandon, Ben, and Jonny. As you all know, I am the proud owner of "Emily's Eggs", my egg business. My favorite animals are goats, cats, chickens, horses, and sheep. This post is going to be about my life on the farm, and about the things I enjoy doing. I hope you like it.

The things I enjoy doing the most on the farm would be taking care of animals, picking produce, planting, and (believe it or not) butchering days. In the following paragraphs I am going to write a little bit (or maybe a lot!) about each of those subjects, and hopefully give you a good idea about what life on the farm is like for me.

Taking care of the critters:
Of course, I take care of the chickens every day, which includes giving them water & feed, filling the nest boxes with straw, collecting the eggs, sweeping out the chicken coop, turning the straw, and babying any sick chickens.=) My favorite part about taking care of the chickens would be raising the chicks, and hatching my own chicks with broody hens. All of my chickens have first, middle, and last names. This may seem funny, but it certainly doesn't seem right for them to remain nameless, and I thoroughly enjoy naming them! Some examples of chicken names would be Fredrick Howard Polish, Ophelia Violet Partridge, Lucy, Polly Anne, Pearl, Solomon, Blondelle, and name a few. :) It is difficult to get all the names down, but after practice I have them down well. I also keep a list of all the names hanging in the coop with a description of the chicken, which helps me remember.=)

Another animal which I enjoy taking care of is the goats. Every morning me, Ben, Jonny, and Dad go out to take care of the sheep and goats, and my specialty is the goats. I especially like to brush down Millie Joy and give her her "treats" (a mix of grains and corn).f Belle also is fun to take care of. Me and my brothers like to teach her tricks, and take her out of her pen and run around and play with her. She is just like a puppy, as playful as one, and follows us around like one. :) Occasionally, I help out with the sheep, but that's pretty rare. The only time that I am helping with them full-time is in lambing season. Then I'm out about every few hours, checking on the Momma sheep that are due any moment, and looking for signs of lambs on the way. I am really excited for the lambs that will be popping out around April 15th this year! I had the privilege and joy of bottle feeding Paul John Vest last lambing season. :) Paul's Momma, Nancy Pearl Vest, had mastitis, and wasn't fit to be feeding a baby lamb. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed going out every hour to milk one of the other sheep, and bottle feeding little Paul. I can't wait to bottle feed the baby goats this spring, and maybe I'll get the privilege of bottle feeding a lamb again. They are known as "bum lambs", but to me they're a lot more fun than their title gives them credit for! =)

Pickin' Produce:
As I said before, I enjoy picking produce in the summer. It does get hot, but a rewarding swim always makes up for it. Mostly, I like to pick tomatoes and dig potatoes. But I don't like everything...I detest picking green beans! :)

I love planting! ...anything, but especially potatoes. There's nothing as fun as planting potatoes! First, somebody goes down the rows and digs holes down each one. Next, I come along (usually with Ben and Jonny) with a basket of potatoes, or with a skirt-full, and we drop the potato in the hole and with our bare feet cover it up with cool, damp, rich, black dirt. Then we move to the next hole. What fun! :)

As for Butchering Days...
I won't get into the specifics...but it's fun running around catching the chickens or turkeys, whichever happens to be doomed for that day. :) ...and I think I'll just leave it at that. :)

As I said before, I'm so lucky to be able to live on a farm...there's simply nothin' like the sweet smelling country air, the gorgeous sunsets, the newborn lambs, the tiny chicks, and the soft feel of grass under bare feet....I love it all, and I'm so lucky to be a farm girl!!!!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Incredible Edible Egg!

Hard boiled eggs are a favorite around our house. It's a good thing too, considering the number of eggs we have. Have you ever tried making hard boiled eggs from farm fresh eggs? It's not pretty! The fresher the egg the more difficult it is to peel. I am not sure exactly why that is. Adding vinegar to the water before boiling them helps. But tucking a couple dozen fresh eggs in the back of the refrigerator for a week or two works also! White eggs always peel the best. They seem to have a thinner shell than the brown and green eggs. Also, white eggs are usually the biggest eggs, at least on our farm. It's no wonder they were chosen for mass production—those poor leghorns!

Over the past several decades the egg has gotten a bad rap. Some would like us to believe they are killing us and should be replaced with some chemical concoction. I don't agree. Quality eggs—from chickens that are pasture raised, eating bugs and worms—are full of good nutrition. They are an excellent source of vitamin A, carotene, thiamin, niacin, vitamin D and iron. Eggs are also considered to be the most complete protein source in a single food.

Here is some more food for thought:

"The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine had a report on eggs and cholesterol. A group of New Guinea natives, whose diet is exceedingly low in cholesterol, were fed eggs to measure the cholesterol-raising effect of eggs. They figured the serum cholesterol levels would be blown off the charts. The eggs had no significant effect on the blood cholesterol. Another study done by the American Cancer Society revealed that non-egg users had a higher death rate from heart attacks and strokes than egg users. This was a very large (and so convincing) study involving over 800,000 people." William Campbell Douglass, MD The Milk Book

"Patients with severe burns are often force-fed huge quantities of whole eggs and egg concentrates as a source of protein to rebuild large areas of lost skin. During this egg therapy, however, there is no significant increase in their serum cholesterol. In one study, volunteers fed 18 eggs per day actually showed reduced levels of cholesterol. Perhaps it is because when you are full of eggs you do not have room for sugar and junk foods-the real culprits in the cholesterol scenario. Eggs are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. They provide protein of the highest quality plus all known vitamins and minerals (except vitamin C)." David W. Rowland Health Naturally

"Since eggs have the highest amount of cholesterol per unit weight of all common foods (liver and brains have more), people began to fear them. Once called nature's most perfect food by nutritionists, eggs fell into disfavor and their consumption began to plummet after 1950. The average number of eggs consumed in the U.S. per person per year dropped from a high of 389 in only 234 in 1989. Americans are eating many fewer eggs today than at the turn of the century......Thousands of egg farmers have gone out of business over the last 30 years because of the false dietary cholesterol scare. And millions of Americans have given up or substantially reduced their consumption of one of the best and most economical foods available for no good scientific or common sense reasons." Russell L. Smith, PhD Health Freedom News

I believe it is best to eat a diet of natural foods. By that I mean foods with ingredients you can name, or better yet foods that are not canned or boxed. Over the years, we have gone through different health fetishes. There was a time when we avoided all dairy products-drinking soy and rice milks. There were also times when I had no sugar in my house. But we have observed that our family has been the healthiest when we have consumed a very "normal" diet of organic natural foods, nothing too extreme. So, all that to say, we enjoy our eggs! And we even throw a few pieces of organic, no nitrate bacon on the plate as well!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Welcome Home!

Yesterday we welcomed Mike and Brandon home! They spent 11 days in Mexico on a missions trip. Boy, did we miss them! The homecoming party was a grand event. We made a fancy candlelight dinner, decorated with a large banner and balloons, and dressed in our finest clothes! They arrived home at 6pm. The car only made it about half way up the driveway before it was greeted with running, screaming children that couldn't wait for the guys to get home. The mealtime was filled with lots of chatter-questions and stories. After we filled up on Chicken Pot Pie, the guys blessed us with gifts from Mexico. Emily and I both received beautiful jewelry and rolling pins. Ben and Jonny could not have been more pleased with their gifts-machetes! Complete with a leather case and strap, these 18 inch knives are sure to keep the boys entertained for months! The guys also brought home some neat leather items: a belt, coin purse, dog collar, and some bull whips. Mike demonstrated how to crack the whip. It was quite loud!
While visiting some shops in Mexico, they watched (and video taped) a man making wooden tops. In 53 seconds this man created a wooden top on his turning lathe, including painting it! Mike brought home some wooden tops last year and the boys have mastered making them spin. This year they also purchased a handful of tops, they make nice gifts.
After the gift giving frenzy was over, we looked at pictures and watched some videos. The guys got a lot of work done while they were in Mexico. If you would like to read about their time in Mexico you can visit the mission trip blog at:

Blog Archive