How we raise Meat Birds

Most people are squeamish about raising their own meat.  I can understand that!  I am an animal lover and hate to see anyone in pain.

But I also care about my family.  I am concerned about how the American food system is taking care of their products.  Hmmm, how is sending chickens to China to be processed a good thing?????  So, I combat this by raising my own animals.  I know what they’re fed, how they’re treated, how happy their life is, how big the shelter is, etc.

My philosophy is make sure all their days are good until their last day.  And that last day is not a happy day for anyone!!!  I miss them when they are gone.  But it makes me appreciate their gift to me more now that I know what happened in order to have it.

Last year, we ventured into the world of pigs/pork.  I LOVED it.  Loved their antics.  My husband and kids are loving their bacon and smoked pork chops.  And say it is the best tasting EVER.  I love being able to provide for my family.  Getting ready to order my next batch for this year.  Halfway through last season, I decided to add more pigs so I could sell those and make costs even for my own meat.  If you taking care of one, why not add a few more!

One thing I noticed was how quickly we clear out a freezer!!  When you load it in the freezer as you come home from the butcher, you think, how can we eat all this!?!?!  But I gave a lot out as Christmas gifts – to someone who gave us their leftover corn, to our neighbors, grandparents, aunt/uncle, etc.  And we might eat at home more than the average person?  I have no clue on that.

I bought 65 butchered chickens last year and we don’t have ANY left!!!  My kiddos are missing chicken meals.

So this year we will be focusing on raising meat birds/broilers/cornish cross.

We have butchered our own roosters and they weren’t my favorite taste so I researched more into it.  First off, the roosters we ate were not the eating type.  Second, I didn’t let them sit (to remove rigor mortis) before cooking.  Third, did not cook them the best way to soften them.

I looked into raising Freedom Rangers.  This is said to be a more natural type that doesn’t gorge themselves to death and are better raised on pasture.  BUT I was concerned as my husband is not keen on the dark meat flavor of regular grocery store chickens so how would he be on these?  So that is why I am raising Cornish Cross this year.

As I posted earlier, we hatched 21 eggs.  Then we purchased 24 more eggs and 24 chicks.  If these all hatch/reach maturity, that would be 69 chickens but that won’t be enough for a year AND provided my butchering helpers with chicken too.   So we’ll do at least 1 more set of eggs and chicks.

For the first 2 weeks, they live in our garage in a horse trough with shavings, a heat lamp and well-covered to keep out our cats.  I am able to check on them regularly and keep them in clean food and water.  Now meat birds are different than layers!  Whoo Whee!!!  Smellier, messier, eat more, swim in their water bottle and uglier.  And since they can gorge themselves to death, after their first week, I take out their food at night.   I buy all of our feed from Scratch and Peck but have it delivered through Azure Standard.  Since we will be eating these birds, I want to make sure everything that they eat is as natural as possible.  For the first 8 weeks, they are to be on Starter feed.  Then they will be moved to Grower feed.  I’ll supplement their feeding with a local farmer’s scratch mix as it will cut feed costs.

Once they reach about 2 weeks old, we move them to the brooder that my husband built in our chicken coop.  I think he did a pretty good job designing it but I may be a little biased.  He is so resourceful!  As our house was being built, every scrap that was thrown out, he took and stored in a building her on the farm.  And he manages a warehouse so every time something comes in on pallets, he brings them home.  Other than buying hinges, he had everything on the farm!

This brooder hopefully will be all they need til butcher time!

We’ll butcher them at around 8 weeks if they are around 6 lbs before butchering.

Incubating Eggs

My Christmas gift

Never would I have expected that I’d ever get an egg incubator as a gift or even use one!  But this past Christmas, my hubby splurged on me and got me a highly rated Brinsea Octagon Incubator.

Brinsea Octogan Incubator

I never wanted an incubator as I thought they would be really hard to use – have to worry about turning the eggs at the proper time, maintaining proper humidity, la da da da da…….  No thank you!

Since we have around 75 egg layers right now, we decided first to hatch meat birds.  We order from a local Idaho hatchery (Dunlap Hatchery) and they ship eggs only in February through May.

But incubator is absolutely amazing!  I could see why my hubby picked this one.  First off, we made sure the temperature would remain the proper 99.5 degrees for 12 hours.  Then we added the water into one vessel and added the eggs, POINTY end down. This helped the growing chick have the proper amount of air in the egg.  Wrote on the calendar the reminders to add water every other day to one vessel and then keep both vessels filled the last three days.  That was IT!  The incubator did it’s thing!  The octagon shape made it possible for the motor to turn the entire incubator.  As it turned out, our “due date” was Good Friday!  Nothing like having baby chicks for Easter!

We finally remembered to candle the eggs about 2/3 way through and found 2 of our 24 eggs were not growing.  One had invisible cracks that we could only see through candling and the other egg might not have been fertilized as nothing was growing in there.

Do you know what candling is?  I didn’t before we researched incubators.  How we candled our eggs?  Hubby cut a small hole in a piece of cardboard – maybe an inch in diameter?  Then he put the cardboard on top of his high powered flash light.  We held the egg over the light (in a dark room) and could see blood vessels and dark masses in the growing eggs.  Made this mama nervous as those eggs were worth a lot of effort and my kids were handling them in the dark!  But thankfully no one were harmed.

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On the night before the expected hatch date, I went and sat next to the incubator to see if I could see any pecks in the shells or hear any peeps like I had heard others talk about.  Nothing. But early in the morning on Good Friday, my oldest runs into my bedroom screaming, “A chick has hatched!!!!”  I run in to the laundry room and look in the incubator and there it is, as fluffy and loud as it can be!!!  Several other eggs had holes in their shells too!  By that night we had 12 hatch.  Pretty good odds.  50/50 already!  By Easter morning, 21 out of the 22 had hatched.  After leaving the last egg in the incubator for 2 more days, just in case, we decided to open the unhatched egg up.  Looked fine but maybe it ran out of air??  No idea what happened but that’s nature.

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I had heard that incubated eggs have a very high failure rate.  But my hubby loves to research and he made sure he paid more for a highly rated machine.  I now have to agree with his wisdom! Our second batch of eggs are now halfway through their incubation time.  We’ll have to see if the rate remains that high this time!

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Because my goal is to raise all of our meat chickens to last our family’s needs for a year and I only have a 24 egg incubator, we will be ordering chicks and eggs the next few orders.  Last year, I bought 64 birds and that wasn’t enough.  The kids can’t wait to butcher date as they are missing chicken meals.

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Closing the year 2015

I have been more introspective at the close of this year then I ever have been!  Maybe because this year I spent more time on training and developing ME?    Maybe that would have been my word/phrase for 2015 – personal development?  I think that the end of 2014 was when I first saw people making words for their year? Maybe??  Or maybe I just paid attention to it?  And I couldn’t think deeply enough to dedicate a word for me to focus on all year long.

Since I spend so much this year on introspection, I can see areas that need change in my life.  I realize I am involved in too many good things.  What’s the saying about doing too many good things that don’t allow for the great things?

Learn to say no

I realized when school started this fall we would have to cut things.  Right off the bat, we cut 4H.  It is a very good activity, just too many regular meetings when we are already living 4H out on our farm.  Every day is already educational in farm life!   We cut the girls’ from the local drama group.  Mom was just tired of being the sole taxi driver and there isn’t anyone way out here in the country to carpool with.  We stopped the regular involvement with the American Legion.  We still made 130 Veterans Day cards and helped with the annual Turkey Bingo fundraiser but opted out of the monthly meeting and potluck.  But you know what???  I still feel overwhelmed!

Several years ago, I read a book called “A Woman After God’s Own Heart” by Elizabeth George.    It has been a huge impact on me (in fact it was the one that guided me to homeschool!)  But I remember the author saying something like Mama being the thermostat of the house.  If she is tired and cranky, her kids will show the same symptoms.  In my case, if Mama is stressed, the kids will also be stressed.

A woman after gods own heart

As I was searching for a new Bible Study to do in November, I saw one titled Breathe by Priscilla Shirer.  I had to think about it for a few weeks but decided that it was the study I needed to close the year out with.  I have a problem slowing down.  In fact, that’s probably the reason I don’t sit still enough to focus on this blog.

Breathe

I have learned so much from it.  First off, I don’t feel I have trusted God enough with our finances.  That is something WE are supposed to control, in my faulty opinion.  Secondly, I learned that I am a slave to busy-ness.  I feel my self-worth comes from what I accomplish.  My son said a few weeks ago that we are not honoring the Sabbath as that’s one day we work even harder than others since Daddy is home and we can get projects done.  How convicting is that??  Now, I think he also had ulterior motives since working is not his preference!

Daryl and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary this week. We went out to a delicious local sourced restaurant and talked for several hours.  As we always do, we looked back on the years and he commented on our lack of Sabbath rest.  Since D confirmed my thoughts, I knew this was something I need to change/focus on it for this next year.

So what will my word be for 2016??  Peace.

I will seek God in all my decisions – all my essential oil business decisions, all my farming decisions, all my homeschooling decisions.  I am seeking Peace.  If I don’t have God’s peace, I don’t want it!

2016

Fruit Canning Season 2015

This 2015 garden season was non-stop until the middle of November.  It did not go as I planned.  Things didn’t grow that I wanted to.  Weeds grew more than I wanted them to. My melons didn’t grow at all.  I had beets and carrots grow but guess what happened??  Mice ate them….under the  ground!!!

Throughout the hot summer months, we were able to go pick strawberries, apricots, peaches and pears from local farmers.  I did get a few apples which were only enough to make one batch of applesauce as we have plenty from last year.  I preserved and dried as much as I could handle.  We planted several fruit trees but it takes several years for them to mature and we even lost three (plum, cherry and peach).  Next year, we will have to plant more.IMG_1004

Here are some of my favorite recipes:

My favorite strawberry jam recipe (Just don’t try it with raw sugar.  Makes it too runny like a syrup!)

We found an abandoned apricot tree and made this Apricot Jam.

I discovered this AMAZING honey spiced peach recipe. I had leftover syrup and canned the syrup too.  SO DELICIOUS!!!!

This peach vanilla jam is TO DIE FOR!!!!!!  And was the easiest thing ever to make.  But our area had a hard freeze in late spring so there weren’t as many peaches to use.

Because I like the peach vanilla jam so much, I made tons of her pear vanilla jam to give out to neighbors and homeschool friends as Christmas presents.  I loved using this recipe because you did not have to peel the pears before making!!  Wahoo!!

If you can’t tell, we aren’t plain canned fruit with sugar syrup people.  I made this recipe for vanilla spiced pears  last year and knew I needed to repeat it this year.  My kids would drink the syrup if I let them!!!

I got so sick of pears before I finished, so I made one last effort to make this pear sauce!

My ideal goal was to have our fruit needs prepared for the year but they way THIS family eats fruit, I am sure I didn’t do that!!

 

What to feed pigs

Have you ever heard the thought that you are only as healthy as what you eat?  Ever thought that you are only as healthy what your food eats?

That was MY main thought when we got our pigs.  Why raise pigs to eat that don’t eat heathy themselves?  As you know, I am fairly new to the area so I don’t know the area businesses.  Don’t know where the food comes from.  But I do know a farmer that raises his own pasture raised pork.  What does HE feed his pigs?  I asked him and it’s from another local farmer, who happens to be certified organic!  It’s just a mixture of three grains.  Why I didn’t think about this until I GOT the pigs, I have no idea!

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For the first couple of weeks, I fed that mixture.  Farmer John allows his pigs a larger area to pasture.  Mine don’t have that much area and they immediately tore up all the vegetation in there.  So I was concerned that they weren’t getting ENOUGH to eat.  Yes, they got our scraps but was that enough?

Shortly after we got the pigs, we went up to our favorite camp and helped clean out the industrial refrigerator and freezer.  I was so excited to bring home all the expired food to feed the pigs.  One reason I love having pigs is they turn scraps into bacon!

Through K’s 4H classes, I learned that pigs need a certain percentage of protein.  I buy our bulk goods from an awesome coop called Azure Standard and saw they offered alfalfa  pellets and field peas but no pig feed.  I asked Farmer John if those would be good to add and he said yes.  I want these pigs to grow like they should!  No skimping on my bacon!  K IS in 4H but she is a clover bud meaning she can’t sell her pigs in the livestock sale but WE can eat them!

So my pig feed is a mixture of local grains, alfalfa pellets and field peas.  They LOVE it!!!

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Seasons – Summer

Right now it is so very hot and humid (for Idaho! I’m from Texas so do know what humidity is!)  I am ready for summer to be over!  Start the fall weather, fall clothes, fall food, and fall activities.  But first must can the tomatoes!

Do people ever ask you what is your favorite season is?  My favorite season is always the next one.  I spent most of my life living in Hawaii and south Texas.  Neither of them are known for their change in seasons!  So now I relish the changes in the seasons.  Watching the tulips coming up, green grass starts to grow, getting warm enough to plant things in the garden, watching tomatoes ripen, time to start canning, having a bonfire on a crisp evening, time to make pumpkin pie, watching the snow fall.  They are all my favorites!   I love that we live in a world that has been masterfully ordered so that even the seasons are predictable.  Summer comes after spring, fall comes after summer and so on.

A friend lent me a CD called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  I own a hard copy but loved being able to drive around listening to a book while running errands.  Listening to the book made more of an impact then when I read the book 4 years ago.  Maybe because I am in a different place myself?

avm-book-coverThe book follows the author as she and her family the decision to eat from her county for a full year!!!  They started in the spring when the asparagus came up and showed how they survived each month for a full year.  I loved learning form her and her husband as he shared the flaws of our american food supply system.

They had a garden, raised chickens and turkeys, shopped the farmers market and made everything else from scratch.  She talked about how shopping like that saved them like $7000 that year!  All that they bought went directly back into their local economy.

This is something I want to emulate.  First, it is healthier – no additives have been added.  Second, you know that it will help the families you buy from.  This summer, I bought 60 butchered chickens from a local farmer.  I paid him a down payment in the spring and told him I’d like 20 birds at a time so I could cut them into the cuts we use.  It was a few hours of work 2 times a month but I learned a lot.  First off, that I need sharper knives!!!  Third, it’s more humane.  Farmer John didn’t have a huge faculty farm.  He had the chickens in a hut and they were able to run around and eat bugs out of their garden.  (Well, that was the idea!  The chicks ate some of their plants too.)

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I have been going to the farmers market for the items I couldn’t grow.  Like berries.  I bought at least a 100 lbs of berries to freeze for our daily use.  I have a handful of berries in my daily smoothie and usually bought the organic mix at Costco.  I have frozen several packages of corn.

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Grandpa butchered a cow for us!  It was my first time to have a butchered cow so we’ll count it as a learning experience.  Next time, I’ll request different cuts.  Some cuts I have no idea how to use!  But that animal came right from our backyard.  I hope we can start our own herd.  I’ll have to ask Grandpa how we can do that.

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Last week, we headed to a local orchard and picked 200 pounds of peaches, pears and apples.  The peaches have all been put in jam or canned.  The pears are almost ripened and we just got a few apples that trip for eating.  Canning apples come later.

 

Well, this all makes for an expensive SUMMER season!  But I won’t have to buy most of these things til next summer!  I need to be focusing on the YEAR’s budget and not just my summer budget.

Let’s see what the next season brings?? :)

Learning about PIGS!

Growing up, I never thought about pigs.  Never thought about where my food came from.  Never thought I live on a farm!  My entire pig experience was wrapped around the book Charlotte’s Web!

As God changed my heart and opened my mind to living on a farm, I began to search out blogs and Instagram people to follow and learn from.  As I’ve mentioned before, my favorite farm blog is ThePrairieHomstead.com  and two of my favorite Instagram accounts are YonderWayFarmer and WorkingHandsFarm.  I learn so much about taking care of my gardens and about raising animals through their posts.  Their posts are simple beautiful!  I wish I could take a picture like that!!!

After we moved to Idaho and settled into our home, I found a local 4H group for the kids to get involved with.  I wanted to join ALL the projects!!! If I didn’t have kids, I might have even done them all!  Baking, dutch over cooking, leather craft, archery…… basically, I’ve decided I am in the wrong time period!  I should have been born at least 50 years before I was.

The first year, we just were involved with making things.  Sewing, Legos, Cake Decorating, jewelry making, shooting rockets.  Kids (and I!!) learned so much!  And at the end of the 4H year (September) K says, “I want pigs next year!”  Well, okay!!!  She would still be a Cloverbud which means she can’t see at market but then that means WE get to eat it!  I asked her WHY she wanted to raise pigs and her own word answer was “BACON!”

This spring, K spent a Saturday working with her daddy and building a pen for her piggies, which she had named before we even got them, “Ham” and “Bacon.”  They will get shade from an old Russian olive tree and they made shelter from the old fencing laying around Grandpa’s farm.  The pig troughs come from when Great Grandpa raised pigs.  Love having the heritage in this pig pen!!!

We went to pick up the pigs on Mothers Day weekend.  At first they didn’t eat and I wondered why.  Could it be the change in location?  They’re scared??  Then I remembered… Pigs like SLOP!!!  After I started adding water to their feed.  They slopped it up!  (See what I did there??)

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I have an addiction…… Chickens!!

Last fall after the county fair, I bought all the pullets (not yet egg laying female birds) that were available.  But at least 2 weren’t mature enough to know they were roosters!  Thankfully, we knew people who will take and eat them!  Can’t have too many roosters in the hen house!

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In February, a fellow chicken owning friend asked if I wanted her flock of 20 hens and a rooster as she couldn’t keep them in her new city backyard.  Of course I jumped at the chance, especially since she was selling her coop along with the chickens.   Good thing we have access to trailers!!!  Needed something to transport them.   I gifted 4 hens to Grandpa’s hired hand as he is a fellow animal lover.  As I’ve driven by his house, I’ve seen him sitting watching his own “chicken t.v.”  The new flock in our pasture is so happy running amidst the rock piles and under the Russian olives trees and scratching through straw piles.

In March, we headed to Texas to spend time with my family.  My parents live on my mom’s 66 acre ancestral farm.  My hubby D had a plan.  We were going to get a coop and chickens for my parents!!!  How could they NOT have chickens?  They lay eggs and eat any food scraps you give them.  We got them the cutest red barn hen house from Tractor Supply and searched Craigslist for the oldest pullets we could get them.  We did not want to get them the young chicks that are harder to take care of as they have to stay under heat lamps the first 7 weeks.  Mimi got to pick out the cutest 5 pullets – 2 Black Australorps, 1 Barred Rock, I Buff Orpington, and 1 New Hampshire.   And now they have a “Comedy Central” to watch.  Hopefully they’ll start receiving their first eggs by the end of June!

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After returning from Texas, I received my order of day old chicks.  I have learned I don’t like a uniform flock.  If they all look they same, how are you going to tell if a certain hen is doing certain thing – like has become broody or which buff is limping or if one is missing?  So I prefer having only 2 – 4 of the same breed.  in this order, the kids were able to pick some “pretty” birds (bantam breeds) and I got chicks for egg layers – araucanas (lay green or blue eggs), amber whites and black sex links.   Since this ordered was mailed, I had to have a minimum of 25 chicks so I asked others if they wanted to order with me.  After doling out the chicks to friends, we weren’t careful with the brooder and one of our mousers got in and had a picnic.  At least 3 were enjoyed by the cute kitty.  So I had to got to our local feed store to get 5 more to replace the ones we lost.

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At the first part of May, I got a call saying my rare lavender orpington day old chicks were shipped!!  I can’t tell you were we first saw or heard of this breed but Hubby D was just as intrigued by them as me. They are a unique lavender/grey bird.

I had to google the breed to see where it came from.  “Named after the town of Orpington, Kent, in south-east England, the Orpington chicken was created by William Cook in 1886. It was developed by crossing Minorcas, Langshans, and Plymouth Rocks to create a new hybrid. Since their first appearance in Maddison Square Gardens in 1895, they have become instantly popular and well liked on account of their loose-feathered fluffy appearance. Not only is the Orpington a striking exhibition bird, but often prized for its docile nature. They are exceptionally hardy during the winter months and continually lay eggs in cold weather.”

I was so excited to get the early morning call from our post office saying they had arrived.   For the first three days of life, chicks can survive without food and water which is how they can be mailed.  But I don’t like any animal not having access to food or water, so I was worried about this little fluffy butts!  But all 20 arrived safe and sound!  The entire family is watching them grow and getting more “lavender-y”!!  Cannot wait to see how they grow!

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We moved the March babies into the adolescent pen this week as they grew in all their feathers.  The first day, they didn’t venture out the pen.  They were nervous to be “outside” (pen is completely fenced in with fencing for the roof and sides) but now they have to be gathered up to be locked up at night.  They don’t know when to head to bed!!!!  And in the morning when I open them up, they all fly out of their coop!  Love watching my chicken t.v!!!

 

I LOVE essential oils

Doterra Cover picture

In September of 2014, I was offered the chance to watch the video presentations of an essential oil company’s national convention. I was blown away by the science behind the products. And how God created the plants this uses to make the essential oils and how they actually work to help heal and support our bodies’ health. And how the company offers so many types of testing to insure that the products we receive have not been adulterated or have fillers added.

I felt God challenging me to start sharing with others about why I love these oils and giving them the chance to try them too. So along with sharing the oils, I needed to start a business out of it because I couldn’t just give hundreds of dollars away of oils each month!! :)

I love introducing essential oils to people. Love leading classes. Love seeing the changes that individuals have seen by using the products.

I also love how it lines up with the rest of our natural living practices of raising our own animals and produce and cooking.

It has impacted my entire family. My son is a fruit cake!! I love him dearly! He has memorized my reference book. One day, I got stung by a wasp and ran into the house. He heard me and yelled from his back bedroom, “You need Basil!” Having no other quick ideas, I put a drop on the sting and felt immediate relief. I looked in my book and sure enough, he was correct! He is an elephant…. never forgets.

So you might learn several ways we use the oils in our family and on the homestead!!! :)

What’s keeping us busy??

Hello!  I cannot believe it is May of 2015!  I am finally feeling like I can breathe.  The last year has been a huge whirlwind with all the work we have done on the farm.  My idea of how much extra-curricular activities I could be involved in while on the farm shrunk drastically.

First off, we worked on getting the “dirt pile” ready to plant grass seeds.  That involved lots of racking, picking rocks, digging up BOULDERS, spreading manure and harrowing with the ATV. We also had the blessing of a neighbor helping (actually we helped HIM!) to put into a sprinkler system.  That helped putting int he grass seed so much easier!

 

Next, we worked to get our huge garden put in.  This also involved lots of racking, picking rocks, digging up BOULDERS, spreading manure and harrowing with the ATV.   And also was blessed by the neighbor putting in a sprinkler system!!  Made it 10X easier.  We still had tons of weeding to do over the summer.  We planted kale, swiss chard, beets, 45 tomato plants, strawberry plants, watermelon, pumpkins, cucumbers, beans, sugar snap peas, corn, cabbage, zucchini, yellow squash, honeydew melon,  jalapeños, basil, jackolantern pumpkins, daikon, blueberry bushes, okra, butternut squash….. and all from seeds that we started in March inside our kitchen.  I was able to can and freeze so much of it.  And was even able to share a ton too.

It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  The corn didn’t grow to produce ears, my husband ran over my blueberry bushes with the lawnmower since they were buried in weeds, the okra never produced, I got cucumber blight and only pickled about 5 jars, didn’t stake the peas early enough and the same with tomato plants, but we are back at it again this year!

August was busy with 4H preparation for all the kids.  We didn’t know how involved it would be. BUT I was amazed by what all the kids learned!  The last week of August was intensely busy with the county fair.  Our family entered over 45 items to be judged – from produce to cakes to sewing to jewelry to baking to paintings to lego and WWII dioramas!

My parents came to visit in the fall and we could show them our little patch of heaven in Idaho.  We stayed busy canning fruit (pears, peaches and apples), making and canning apple cider, and even learning how to ferment sauerkraut.  We were able to get a steady stream of regular egg buyers too!

Oh and we still homeschooled!  My goal was to make all our Christmas gifts but that didn’t happen!