Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goat Herding

 It's been kinda busy around here for the last few days. My father in law is here to visit for a little while and the kids have been just a tiny bit excited. It's nice for me, because Papa is more than willing to listen to all of their stories...because he hasn't heard them 12 million times already. It's also been loud and somewhat chaotic with all 4 kids trying to get Papa's attention at the same time. 
 So, this morning I took my book and my goats out to enjoy the beautiful weather we're having right now.
My goat supervision hangout.
 This is the random slab of concrete that I sit on so I don't end up with a wet butt from sitting on the grass. We have no idea what it's from or why it's there, but it's a good spot to enjoy the quiet.

They LOVE oak trees.
Sweetie is our head goat and she always leads them to the oak tree first. Jasper only eats part of the time, the rest of the time he bounces around and finds things to climb on. 

Coco is trying to figure out what Jasper is doing up there.
 Shortly after I got comfy I realized that I was being stalked. Princess wanted to see what I was up to. Usually Tiger goes with me when I go for a walk and Princess stays at the house, but she loves to startle the goats.

Princess wanted to see what I was doing.
 Princess found a bird's nest while we were hanging out, and then I found another one. I'm not sure what kind of bird made them, but they were both about a foot off of the ground in small trees, I wouldn't be surprised if the kitty ate any babies that might have been in them.

Two small bird's nests. Each would fit one chicken egg.
 I love to be outside here. Even if I don't have anything I need to be doing outside (or if I need to be doing something inside) I love to sit outside, dream about the things we have planned for the new year and enjoy the view.

My second favorite tree.
 Blessed Be and Happy New Year to everyone.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mellor Christmas

 We had a very nice Christmas here at the Mellor House. We woke up at 6:30 and opened presents, then had some cinnamon rolls, did our chores and headed down to my grandparents house for the day. Here's what everyone got this year...

Gabe and Lily in their robes
  Gabriel got a bike (which he won't actually ride...yet), a movie, a book, a potato clock, finger less gloves, a model rocket and his favorite...2 new robes.

Aislyn with her new bike "Speedy"

 Aislyn also got a bike, a toy sewing machine, a weather station thing, 2 books, a tiny purse and 2 robes. 

Lily is gonna be Mama's big helper with her trailer

 Ian got a bike, 2 books, a wind generator, finger less gloves, and 2 robes.

 Lily got a cool old tricycle with a trailer (so she can help Mama with chores), a book, a robe, a tiny purse and pj's.

Aislyn, making beautiful art.

 They also got some gifts to share. Two karaoke machines, some CDs to go with them, The Narnia books on CD, an easel. 

My bike "Lulu"

 I got a a bike (named Lulu), a 32 quart tamale steamer to use as a boiling water bath canner, twelve 1 quart canning jars, a subscription to Mother Earth News, a subscription to Hobby Farms and a book I've been wanting. 

 And Mike got a book on butchering and smoking meat, a book about bee keeping, a subscription to Field and Stream and a subscription to Outdoor Life (none of which I have pictures of.)

 I'm sure I forgot stuff, but my children are in the middle of winter break and my brains are starting to leak out of my ears from the noise and chaos around here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Homemade Christmas

 This year I made presents for everyone in my insanely large family. I waited until November to start knitting, so I have been crazy busy. I did get it done though...on Christmas about 6 pm.
 So here are pictures, they are mostly scarves, because I'm better at rectangles.
For my Uncle Mike

For my brother Uriah
For my brother Logan

For my brother John

For my...uh, Stacey

For my little sister

For my brother's fiancee

My first non-beanie hat.
Little bracelet purses for the girls

Fingerless gloves for the boys

My snowflakes, they DO NOT LOOK LIKE COASTERS!!

 There was another scarf for my brother Thomas, but somehow I didn't manage to get a picture of it. It was a cool two toned green.
 Now that I'm done I don't want to see yarn for at least a month...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Animal pictures

 Tonight I thought I would introduce some members of our little menagerie to the world.
Baby Bruno with the kittens. Tiger is in the middle.

 First is Bruno AKA The Chicken Killer, Bubba, Idiot, Doofus and Chunk. Things started off so well with Bruno. He was such a tiny thing when we got him, not much bigger than the kittens. He had terrible puppy breath but I was in love.

"I'm a good boy, Mama. Well, I TRY to be a good boy."

 He got bigger, but he was still adorable... could you resist that face? This is the "I'm a good boy" face. I'm pretty sure he know's that I'm a sucker for it.
Eating pears

Unfortunately, he has developed a taste for my hens. He's killed and /or eaten more than a dozen now. If anyone wants a sweet, smart, lovable dog that's good with kids and bad with chickens just let me know and he's all yours.

Larry and Laura being house ducks.

Then there is Larry the lonely duck. Larry is a lousy husband. He let both Laura and Q-tip (his girls) get eaten by...something (probably Doofus.) without raising any kind of fuss. I'm pretty sure he ran and hid under the shed. So now Larry has no girl and I don't really feel sorry for him.
Larry (front) and Laura being porch ducks.

 I do kind of miss Laura. She was the only one of my animals that would talk back to me.

Now for the chickens. They're more entertaining than you would think.
Bob and his girls.
My easter eggers

Gabe with one of the chicks.
Fresh from the egg.
She started laying in a box.

My latest hatch.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


 Technology hates me. No, really, it hates me. I can crash computers just by looking at them. I can crash computers over the phone. I can crash computers on other continents. I can probably crash computers in galaxies far, far away...
 I kill mp3 players, I kill car stereos, I kill cell phones by the dozen. Digital cameras commit suicide when I walk in the room.The Wii acts up around me. My internet service goes out all day and then magically works the moment my husband walks in the door.
 I don't understand it. I love technology. I have wasted many perfectly good hours trying to kill egg stealing pigs with flying birds. I talk to my old girlfriends from middle school on a daily basis on facebook. I think Google is amazing. You want to know how snails reproduce? Google it. When do you start tomatoes indoors in Central Texas? Google it. What is the best breed of chicken for the small homestead? Google it. How do you shrink a human head? You get the idea...It's heaven for an information junkie like me.
 At least once a day I walk up to Mike with some piece of technology in my hand, begging "Fix it, please!?" Thankfully, Mike is a secret geek and can fix anything I manage to screw up.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Boring day on the homestead

 Last weekend Mike went to a local homestead to get my cheese supplies. He found out that they have several classes, including cheese making. On Sunday I was looking at the list of classes they have, I discovered that there was a 3 day homesteading class that teaches the basics and it was on my birthday next year. I put a link on fb. Something like "I want to do this for my birthday." My friends and I talked about how cool it sounded and then I stopped thinking about it.
 You can't imagine how surprised I was when Mike told me that his mom and grandma were going to pay for me to take the class!! I have amazing in-laws!! Merry Christmas, Happy Yule and Happy birthday to me!!
 So, I didn't get a whole lot accomplished today, just the basic chores. I spent most of my day at their website.
They LOVE cedar!
 I did let the goats out to graze on the trees and weeds surrounding their pen. I love to watch them stand on their hind legs to get at the higher branches even though there is a branch brushing the ground not more than 3 feet to their left. Jasper is more interested in romping that eating, but he did stop long enough to nibble on some poison oak. They tried to convince me that they were still starving by making a mad dash to the back porch (where the feed is kept) and it took a flake of alfalfa to get them back into their pen.

Wrapped in cheesecloth
 Tomorrow night I will start another cheese. This time a soft goat cheese that doesn't need to cure. Mike is happy that he get's to eat it right away. Speaking of cheese, here are a couple of pictures of the cheese I have curing. It got a little bit smooshed in the cheese press but I don't think it's going to make one bit of difference in how it tastes. For a first try, and one that seemed doomed to fail I'm really happy with how it turned out.
 So that's it for tonight, y'all. Blessed Be

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Plans for the future

 Hi everyone, today I thought I would talk about some of the plans we have for our farm, both big and small.
 I'll start with the most pressing stuff.

The vegetable and herb garden. We moved onto the property in June of this the midst of the worst drought in Texas history and at the beginning of 99 days of 100+ degree weather. There was no way we could have broken through the hard packed clay, so we put off plowing until we got some rain. Now we've had some rain and Mike got me a rototiller so this should get done in time to start onions and peas in February. I'll be starting seeds indoors under lights for the warm weather crops in January.

My chicken coop with recent goat addition.
A bigger chicken coop. I love my coop, I do, but Mike built it for me when I had a dozen chickens. It's getting a little cramped in there with the 30 I have now. Mike told me that I am allowed to have 200 total and they are going to need a house that fits them all. I'll use the small coop to brood young chickens or for the meat birds we plan to get.

The extent of our storage right now.

A barn. We are seriously lacking in storage for animals, feed and equipment. My husband has plans for that.

Fence. We have some fencing on two sides of the property and the creek is on the third side might act as a barrier for our animals, but the front is open to the road. The chickens and goats share a 30' x 50' fenced run which limits grazing to when I have time to supervise them. We can't get the cow I want so badly (see below)until we have better fencing.

A couple acres of wheat, oats and dent corn in the spring to use for bread and for animal feed. Buying grain is expensive and we'd rather be as self sufficient as possible.

Mike's bargain bee boxes. They need some work...
Bees. Mike got himself some hives recently and they need to be cleaned up and repainted so we can get ourselves some bees. I love the idea of having my own honey and wax.
 Now for some plans that are farther out.

Our 2 pear trees, they are due for a serious trimming
An orchard. We already have a couple of pear trees and we'd like to add apples, peaches, plums, apricots, and lots more.

A berry patch. Blackberries, raspberries, dewberries, and blueberries.

Cattle. We want to get ourselves a small herd of Irish Dexter cows. They are a small dual purpose cow that we think would be ideal for our property, once we get it fenced. They are yummy to eat and they make great milk.

Pigs. Can you say bacon!?

A large grape arbor. My kids love grapes and raisins.

There's lots more of course. I think of things everyday that I'd like to do, but I'm about out of quiet time this morning.

Blessed Be

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Home Sweet Home

 Tonight was Mike's company Christmas party. Now, everyone who knows me knows that I am an introvert. I don't do parties. Groups of people tend to make me feel overwhelmed. Especially groups of people that I don't know very well and that I need to make a good impression on. That's one of (many) reasons I live on 10 acres out in the country...the lack of people. Plus getting 4 kids ready to go out in public is extremely stressful for me.
 That being said, it wasn't too bad. I survived. I didn't make any snarky comments to anyone I shouldn't. We sat with the people I knew best and I was polite (mostly), charming and even funny.There was food. I like food. My kids were pretty well behaved and very cute. They were thrilled that they got presents (I was not thrilled by the presents, as every one of them makes noise and was most likely made in China. But they are plastic and will most likely break before they drive me totally out of my mind) and it only lasted 2 hours.
 Now the party is over and I am home... in my footie pajamas...sitting on my bed ...watching my favorite documentary. Ah, home sweet home.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Good things come to those that wait

 This morning I opened the giant pot that the milk had been sitting in so that I could figure out what the heck to do with it...and it had finally separated! It smelled like the yogurt I inoculated it with and it had stopped forming bubbles. I guess I just needed to give up all hope before it would cooperate. Maybe it was trying to humble me. Whatever the reason, I pulled my recipe up on the computer and got to work. I cut the curd, brought the temp back up and cooked the curd to help expel more whey. Pouring it into the strainer was a bit tricky, it was seriously heavy, but I managed. I let it drain for a few minutes and then wrapped it up in cheesecloth and put it in my press. Since I haven't gotten any bricks to weigh it down with yet, I ended up using books. Luckily I have LOTS of heavy books.
This afternoon I pulled out the half-gallon of cream I had saved from the milk and the twins and I made butter. They thought it was great fun to use the mixer and loved getting to taste "their" butter. We got a chunk of butter about the size of a softball. My favorite part was washing the buttermilk out of the butter. I froze the buttermilk that I drained out and will be taking it to my grandpa at Christmas. He used to drink it all the time as a kid and he's excited to get some after all these years. I'm excited to be able to do something special for one of my favorite people in the world.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mama Chicken talks to the animals

Okay, I admit it, I talk to my animals. I talk to them like I expect them to answer me. Sometimes I even supply their side of the conversations.
 "Bruno, are you a good boy?" "Yes, Mama, I'm a good boy. I really TRY to be a good boy Mama. I didn't mean to kill that chicken, Mama, I just wanted to see what it tasted like...again" "I bet it tasted like chicken...again."
 But usually I just hold up my own side of the conversation without any input from them.
 "Excuse me, chicks, those are my toes, they are not food." 
 "Girls, you know that styrofoam is NOT food, right?"
 "Would you please refrain from pooping in my hair while you sit on the top of my head?"
 "Yes, Bob, I hear you. You are the king high pooba of the coop. Now would you please shut up?"
 "Coco, if you don't decide to be my friend I WILL eat you! Goat is yummy." 
 "Larry, DO NOT try to bite the dog. He's bigger than you and he has actual teeth."
 "Bruno, did you get dropped on your head as a baby?"
 "My nose ring is ALSO NOT FOOD!!!"
 "I wouldn't kick you if you didn't get under my feet, Tiger."
 "Girls, could you please stop picking on the little ones? You didn't like it when you were the little ones and the bigger girls picked on you."
 "Mama bunny, please play nice with Daddy Bunny, I need some meat in my freezer."
 "Moonshine, that's no way to impress the girls, try being sweet instead of jumping out and attacking them."
 "If I don't get some eggs from you girls soon I am going to make the world's biggest pot of chicken soup. I could get in the Guinness Book of Worlds records."
 "Who layed this egg? This is the prettiest egg I've ever seen. You're such a good girl. You're exempt from the soup pot."
 "I am not a napkin, please don't wipe your beak on me." 
 "That IS NOT FOOD! Stop trying to eat that!!"
 "Eww, gross. Get your beak out of my ear."
 "Okay, okay, I'm coming. Geeze, you'd think I never feed you."
 "Princess if you don't leave my chickens alone I'm going to cook you and feed you to them."
 So, there you have it. Mama Chicken talks to the animals. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Epic Cheese Fail

 The cheese making process has driven me to drink. Granted, it's only Dr Pepper, but still...

 On Saturday Mike made me a cheese press for our 15th anniversary. I was thrilled! I was even more thrilled when he brought me home 5 gallons of fresh raw milk from a local dairy. That night and the next day the milk stayed outside on the back porch in it's sealed bucket because it wouldn't fit in the fridge (luckily it's been cold!) Last night I had finished my research, found a recipe to turn 5 gallons of milk into 5 pounds of farmer's cheese and was finally ready to start. I skimmed some of the cream off the top of the milk to make some butter later. I had a minor hiccup when I found out I couldn't fit 5 gallons of milk in any of my pans. After a frantic few minutes I realized that it would fit in the turkey fryer my mother had given me. Whew. I sterilized the giant thing and had my big, strong hubby pour in the partially skimmed milk. I turned on the stove and gently warmed the milk to the exact right temperature before adding a cup of plain yogurt to inoculate the milk with good bacteria. I put the lid on and went to bed feeling like I totally had this whole thing down pat.
 This morning I got up at 6, took a peek at the milk, got the three big kids onto their school buses, milked Sweetie, cleaned out the car some and then got Lilybug up. With my very own tiny cheerleader looking on I measured out the rennet, added it to some water, stirred it in and put the lid on. Now, at this point it needed to sit undisturbed for 1-3 hours (according to both the rennet package AND the recipe I was using) so my munchkin and I headed out to get new tires and meet Mike for breakfast. Getting the new tires on the car took forever and I was dying to get home to check on the cheese (and because I'm antisocial and being out in public makes me slightly crazy.) 11 o'clock was the 3 hour mark and I made it home just in time. I expected to have a big mass of solid curd and a bunch of liquid whey in the pan. Instead I had...slightly thickened milk. Hmmm, maybe the house was too cold. I turned the heater on and waited a couple of hours and checked it again. Slightly thicker milk. I did some research online and checked it again, now it looked like cream. Some more research and another couple of hours and it still hadn't separated into it's component parts like it was supposed to.
 By now it was 3 o'clock and it had been sitting for 7 hours and I was getting more and more frustrated, but it was time to clean up some so I wouldn't be embarrassed by my house when Gabe's therapist showed up at 4. After cleaning the kitchen I took the trash out and found Tiger the kitty eating one of my young chickens. All that was left was the head and she was gnawing on that and looking at me all like, "What? I'm a cat remember." I threw my hands into the air and walked to the end of the driveway to wait for Gabe's school bus. Gabe got off the bus without his shirt again, having pulled his Incredible Hulk routine during a meltdown at school. I got him settled in with a snack and checked the milk again, still nothing doing.
 Gabe's therapist showed up and the twins got home and things got hectic (including a minor meltdown from Gabe), but I kept checking on my milk. By 5pm I was passed irritated, past frustrated and headed right for pissed off. The kids were running around like The Lord of the Flies and I had no idea what was for dinner...because I was so focused on the milk.
 At 5:30 my husband walked through the door, (carrying pizza, thank goodness) and amid the chorus of "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, pizza, pizza, pizza!!!" I told him that it didn't work. He took the lid off of the pan and started to move it across the stove. I snapped at him not to move it and he snapped back with something and then I burst into tears. He immediately came over to hug me and said, "It's just milk, baby. No big deal. You can try again."
 So I will try again. And I haven't quite given up hope on this batch, it looks more like custard than milk now. Maybe by tomorrow morning it will decide to get it together and become cheese!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

About me

Hi everyone. I'm going to tell y'all something about myself on the off chance that someone who doesn't already know me is reading this (which I can't imagine, but could happen I suppose.)
My name is Renee, I am 33 years old, I grew up in San Diego, California and was a total city girl for my first 25 years. I have been married to my awesome hubby, Mike, for 15 years now and we have 4 children. Gabe is 10 and he is autistic. The twins, Aislyn and Ian are 9, Ian is also mildly autistic. Lily, our baby, is 3 (how did that happen?!). We live on 10 acres in Central Texas with our many chickens (unnamed except the roosters Bob and Moonshine), meat rabbits (Mama and Daddy, the babies are food so they don't get names), our new dairy goats (Sweetie, Coco and baby Jasper), dog (Bruno, the chicken killer), cats (Princess and Tiger) and one sad lonely drake (Larry.)
When I was pregnant with Gabe I started a vegetable and herb garden in the tiny backyard of our tiny condo in the big city. Then, 4 years ago, we moved to Texas to be near my family. I started my garden here and was pretty darn happy. One day I saw baby chickens for sale at Tractor Supply...They were so cute and fluffy and they "cheep cheeped" at me. How could I resist them? I bought them, of course. That was the beginning of a new phase in my crazy life. I was now Mama Chicken!
I started with just a dozen baby chicks, I got rid of the roosters and lost a few to predators so I was down to 3 hens. The next year we moved to our current area and I got 25 baby chicks in the mail. More predators and sheer chicken stupidity and the next year I got 50 chicks in the mail.
In June of this year we found and bought our dream property, 10 acres with a cute little house, amazing live oak trees and a beautiful creek on the boundary line. The adults, kids, chickens, dog, cats, ducks and rabbits settled in. My hubby got me an incubator and some dairy goats. He built me chicken tractors, a milking stand and a cheese press (did I mention he builds things for a living?) and he tolerates my "chicken math!"
So, that's me. I'm the crazy chicken lady. Hope you enjoy reading about the fun, silly, crazy things that happen at my house.
Blessed Be