I Become a Chicken Farmer

My first week as a chicken farmer is successfully in the books! This is a brand-new little venture for me, and I’m excited to learn and see how it goes. I’ll be sharing lessons learned, tips, and tricks, so follow along and learn from my mistakes and successes!

I decided, with my man’s go-ahead, to order chicks back in January, not wanting to count on the availability of feedstore chicks this spring. The timing was very intentional: Get them in mid-April, they’d be pretty well-grown by our wedding, and we’d have eggs by the fall. Chicks were ordered in January, and within a week I had the bulk of my chick supplies purchased! Eagerly anticipating that order getting here this week, I got a little excited last week and went to Runnings for a few last-minute chick supplies (my chick order was set to ship the week at the beginning of this week). Yep, I came home with four chicks, two Prairie Bluebell chicks and two Sapphire Splash chicks. Oh my goodness. I’m not sure how many hours I spent watching those four chicks.

It was actually nice to get a few days’ headstart to finetune my brooder setup, and gave me a chance to think of a few other things that I wanted to have on-hand for when the big order arrived. So when Tuesday evening rolled around and I got an email saying my McMurray chick order was on its way, I was thrilled! I gave the post office a head’s up on Wednesday, and Thursday morning got a call that the chicks were in. Oh my goodness (favorite phrase when dealing with baby animals). The sounds coming from that little box on the drive back home were precious. And this is what I found when I got home:

I had ordered fifteen chicks: two Black Australorps, five Black Stars, five Red Stars, and three Buff Orpingtons. I was looking for breeds that were good layers, docile, could free range well, and were cold/heat hardy. Boy, they pack those little things in, and even threw in a tiny little silkie bantam as a freebie. I later told my man that I really expected to be productive Thursday morning, but sat on the floor for a full three hours, just watching the chicks. Oh, well.

One by one, I took them out, checked them for pasty butt, and made sure they found the waterer in the brooder box. Only a couple needed to be cleaned up, and one was the tiny little silkie bantam chick. He had a pretty pasted up rear end and seemed to have a minor vent prolapse, but is actually doing really well. He indisputably looks better now than he did when they arrived. I’ll write a little more about that later. As soon as they tasted the water and found the food, those little rascals came alive! They were constant motion for a couple of hours, some of them pretty scrappy, and gorging themselves on food, occasionally almost falling asleep in the water, at which point they had their fill and settled down. There hasn’t been any further picking or scrapping.

So far, I have nothing but good things to say about McMurray Hatchery and would definitely order from them again. The Runnings chicks have done well overall, except for one which died more or less without warning after about 3 days, and for no apparent reason. The other three are completely healthy and I’ve had no issues with them. Every couple of days, the older three get vitamins/electrolytes and prebiotics/probiotics in their water (the new chicks have that constantly, as well as sugar in their water), and I’ve ground their feed down a little bit as well, since they waste a lot of it picking past the big pieces. They’re absolutely hilarious to watch, and they’ve tamed down a lot and are pretty friendly, especially the older three.

The Runnings chicks initially needed regular attention to prevent pasty butt, which stopped being an issue after a few days, while the mailorder chicks have barely needed attention at all, other than the silkie. Considering pasty butt is made worse by stress, those feedstore chicks are definitely more stressed than mail ordered chicks. First, they get shipped in the mail, just like mail ordered chicks, and then they sit in bins at the feedstore until they are purchased, at which point they’re transported again. That’s a lot for a little critter to go through! I’m definitely impressed with how well the McMurray chicks have done and how healthy they seem overall.

So right now I have 19 chicks in my livingroom, peeping up a storm, and couldn’t be happier. My dad jokingly called it a fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and he really is rather correct. Stay tuned for more chick adventures!

DIY Paper Pots for Seed Starting

There is snow falling outside again – wonderful!! – but inside I’ve got a brooder of little chicks and packets of seeds and dozens of sprouted herbs and veggies and perennials, all an optimistic acknowledgement that springtime is indeed here!

If you’re a gardener, you’ve probably browsed seed catalogs and displays at feed stores, stocked up on seeds, planned your garden, and probably even eagerly started seeds indoors a few weeks too early. Oh, well, there are worse things. Gardening is a wonderfully thrifty sort of pursuit, but some of those seed starting supplies can add up pretty quickly. Newspaper pots are a quick and free alternative to peat pots for seed starting, and here are a few tips for making sure they turn out well and hold up!

These sturdy, biodegradable little pots are formed from strips of newspaper, each approximately 1/3 of a newspaper cut lengthwise (fold the paper in thirds lengthwise and cut along those folds) and are rolled around a cylindrical item, such as a spice container or a pop can, depending on how big you want your paper pots. I played around with a couple of different sizes for these pots, what I liked the best was a pop can (well, V8 to be precise, since I don’t drink pop) for size.

Starting at one end of your newspaper strip, roll it around the can, not too tight, so you can then slide it off one end of the can until about 2 or 3 inches are left on the can. The part still on the can will be the sides of the pot, and the rest will form the bottom, by folding it over the bottom of the can. Play around with a folding method until you find one that works for you, but smaller, overlapping folds work better than bigger folds. I find it works best to start right over the end left from rolling the pot, to capture that edge and better hold the pot together, and as I get closer to the end, I tuck the new folds underneath the already folded part. Take some time to get your folding method down, since solid folding equals a solid paper pot. That’s also why I find a pop can works best. A spice jar works okay, but with a pop can, the rim and the indent in the bottom of the can allow you to get a really good series of folds in the paper, making a solid base for the paper pot. Once everything is folded and tucked in, gently slide the pot off the can and it is ready to be used!

These little pots are quick to make and can be a fun time filler. Obviously, once you’ve planted in them and watered them, they do get soggy, so handle them gingerly if you have to move the pots, but when you’re ready to plant your seedlings out in your garden, just plant the whole thing and the paper will disintegrate on its own! I’m growing my starts in disposable baking sheets with plastic covers, which provide a great humid environment until the seeds have sprouted, and then when they are well enough established the cover comes off. So far, I’ve had about a 100% germination rate with what I’ve planted.

Springtime is a wonderful reminder of God’s provision, His sovereignty, and His Creation design in which mankind was created to partner with God in the care and keeping of His earth. It is God who brings or withholds the weather we need, and it is He who ultimately provides, and because of His orderly Creation, in which like produces like, and kind multiplies according to kind, I can plant seeds and grow an expected harvest. Pursuits such as planting and growing and animal husbandry allow us to participate in this world as stewards, as God designed us to be, faithfully using our means and abilities to nurture and foster growth and life in this world, to care for God’s creatures, and to provide for ourselves and our families. So enjoy these springtime pursuits, friends, and thank God for His care and provision!

The Last of Winter, the First of Spring

According to the calendar, spring has arrived, but in western South Dakota, we know better than to put too much store in that! For us, winter lingers sometimes into June, but we’ve begun to taste the springtime and I’m itching for those warmer temperatures, those springtime tasks, mud instead of ice, warm dirt, growing things, and baby animals!

Our relatively mild winter was punctuated with days and weeks of unseasonable warmth, and then punctuated again with unseasonable, bitter cold. And, as always, it starts to feel like it has always been winter, sometime around the middle of February. Those little tastes of springtime that tantalize and taunt us every year, tease us with the warmth that is so close, so close. And we are so ready for springtime, and we’re praying for rain, or a good spring snowstorm to bring some much-needed moisture to the parched landscape.

Of all the seasonal changes, perhaps the most bewildering and wonderful is the change from winter to spring, from the time of slumber and death to a time of waking and birth, from a time of fading to a time of renewal, from surviving to thriving, a time of preparation and planning to a time of action and initiation.

Everything that is easy to accomplish in warm weather is a challenge in the winter, especially when the temperatures plummet and snow and ice freeze us in. A five-minute outdoor task takes fifteen minutes to prepare for inside, and twenty minutes to warm back up after coming inside again. A snowstorm wreaks havoc on travel when you live 30 miles outside of town, or your driveway is a mile long. The ground is frozen solid, everything seems poised to break, the cold creeps into the house until the best way to get some heat going is by turning on the oven and opening the door. An unfortunate calf born in the middle of a frigid cold snap is a struggle to keep alive.

And through the sleepiness and struggle of winter, we dream of spring. We dream of spring, and begin preparing. Gardens are planned, seeds are ordered, harvests are imagined, and a million other projects start forming in the mind, ready to send into action when the cold snap breaks, or when the snow is gone, or when the ground melts. Ranchers watch their cows get heavier and heavier, and pray for a good calving season.

And then at last, spring arrives. We see it on the calendar, and we see a 10 days at time of forecasts for temperatures in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. We see the first shoots of green grass. We feel the first raindrops. We feel the first truly warm breezes and smell the earth warming up. Rock-hard, icy ground turns into a mud slick, and how wonderful the mud smells! The multiple layers of jackets and sweaters diminish to the ease of a shirt and light jacket, stocking caps are replaced with ball caps, and I always cherish the first day I can wear a tank top and sandals!

The garden beds begin to soften under their preparatory layer of plastic. The first load of laundry is hung on the clothesline outside. The first meadowlarks appear. Seeds are started. Those calves that were unlucky enough to be born into the cold snap are now a month old, frisky, and thriving.

What a transformation!

In the winter, we are forced to slow down. It is a sabbath of seasons, in a sense. We are forced to slow down from the seemingly self-sufficient business of the rest of the year and only do those things that are necessary, limited by the cold, the frozen ground, the shorter days. It is an exercise in trusting God for the day-to-day necessities in the day-to-day struggles. And then in the springtime, God turns that trust into joyful action.

Happy springtime, friends! And pray for rain!

Recipes | Pear Jam

Although I tend to associate canning and food preservation with the end of the summer and fall, it is a great way to make use of large quantities of fruit any time of the year, and it is so satisfying to be able to serve something completely homemade. I had bought a box of pears from a friend’s daughter for a 4-H fundraiser, and it made a delightful batch (four batches, actually) of sweet, tangy jam. We’ll enjoy some of it, but the majority of it will be set aside for wedding favors!

Simple tends to be how I roll, so I just used a SureJell jam recipe, with excellent results! It is extremely difficult to go wrong with fruit, sugar, and lemon juice. I did two double batches. A double batch is manageable, but I wouldn’t go over that.

Ingredients:

4 cups finely chopped pears
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 package SureJell pectin (not the low sugar kind)
1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine to prevent foaming

Directions:

Prepare jars and lids and set in a clean and accessible place, ready to be filled. Washing the jars is sufficient, but I did pour boiling water over the lids. This jam is processed for 10 minutes (or more depending on altitude), so no need to sterilize the jars. Recipe yields about 6 cups of jam. I used half and quarter pint jars.

Wash and finely chop pears, measuring out 4 cups into a saucepan. No need to peel the fruit. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice early on to prevent browning. Stir in 1 package of SureJell powdered pectin and mix thoroughly. Add the butter or margarine, and heat the mixture on high, stirring constantly until it reaches a full rolling boil (doesn’t stop boiling when stirred). Add the sugar to the fruit mixture and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute.

Remove from heat, skim off any foam that forms (it wasn’t necessary with this jam), and ladle immediately into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe of the rims and threads of the jars, and seal with lids and rings, tightening the rings finger tight. Process in a water bath canner, adding enough water to cover the jars by 1-2 inches. Bring water to a boil and process for 10 minutes, or adjust for altitude. Where I live, it is a 20 minute process time. Remove from water bath canner and allow to cool, checking for successful seal as they cool. If the lid doesn’t pop down, the jam didn’t seal. Do this as you go, and you can replace any lids that don’t seal and reprocess the jar as above.

As always happens with jam and jelly, there is just enough left over to make a partial jar, or a couple of jars that didn’t fit with the rest of the jars aren’t worth doing another 20 minute process to finish them. These become refrigerator jams! And I have to say the warm jam was decadent on a piece of homemade bread, toasted with butter!

Enjoy this little taste of summer!




2021 | A Year in Review

The last time I did a year in review was at the beginning of 2020, and apparently 2020 was crazy enough I never felt like doing a year in review following it. I was rereading a few posts from that timeframe, the beginning of that year, and had to chuckle to myself. 2020 began with so much optimism, and a few short months later the world was turned upside down. We can plan and dream all we want, but if we aren’t planning and dreaming with the heart conviction that God is the One Who is ultimately ordering and ordaining everything, we are bound to be disappointed. Massively.

But if, on the other hand, we look ahead with eagerness to embrace whatever it might be that God brings about, we will be ready for that time of growing and challenge.

This March 1st marked seven years since we drove up to this little cabin I’m sitting in now, unpacked ourselves, and called this place home. Seven years. In Biblical contexts, the number seven is associated with perfection and completion. How fitting.

As I think about the seven years since moving to South Dakota, it occurs to me that every year has been fraught with challenges. This last year has been, however, the year of the most stark extremes, sometimes the extremes interwoven and indistinguishable.

The year began with massive change and ended with massive change. It began in a sense of chaos yet confidence, and ended in a sense of…well, a different kind of chaos and confidence. My world got turned upside down a year ago, and got turned upside down again in December. But the year that began with a knuckling down and facing the future head-on has ended in a peaceful and optimistic outlook on the coming years. Loneliness and contented resignation have been replaced by companionship and peace. A lonely heart warmed. An empty hand clasped tight. Unkissed lips tasting the sweetness of a kiss. The future’s uncertainty no longer looks bleak. Emptiness has been filled up.

I began working fulltime as a firefighter-medic for a city fire department in January of last year, while up to my ears in paramedic school. Talking about one’s world being turned upside down. Although I have it on good authority that others have had it much worse in paramedic school, I’m honestly not sure how I managed to survive those months, other than because “you can do anything short term.”

All too often, a 24 hour shift on the ambulance (probably not sleeping) would be followed by 24 hours to recover and hit my books hard, followed by 12 or 24 hours of clinicals or ambulance ride time, and then back to my regular 24 hour shift. At times I was driving an hour and a half to start a student shift at 6:30 in the morning, dealing with the uncertainties of weather and bad roads. Also, as I was able, I was also responding to calls for the volunteer department I serve on. Incidentally, it was on one such fire in February, a cold, nasty haybale fire, that I learned the important fact that a certain rancher (another volunteer firefighter) I’d always admired was as single as I was. Whaddya know.

I finished up paramedic school in June, and went into the summer with a sense of relief that that was over, and already bracing for the next thing, a three-month long fire academy that would take me out of my routine, away from my colleagues and partners, off the streets where I was becoming very comfortable as an EMT and new paramedic, and put me through the ringer physically and mentally. I braced for that and prepped physically.

As my summer rolled to a close, those sparks from the haybale fire in February finally kindled a flame. God brought into my life in the most timely of ways the kindest and most supportive man I’ve ever met. Never in a thousand years had I expected to find someone so well suited for me, or to whom I was so well suited. We enjoyed roughly a month of almost uninterrupted courtship, with my every-third-day 24-hour shift the only interruption. We made the most of that time. We enjoyed beautiful weather, coffee before my shifts, hiking, working cows, and countless other things, and in three weeks our relationship had deepened beyond what I would have thought possible in months or years. In a matter of a few weeks, I had a best friend, a favorite person, and I knew without the shadow of a doubt that I’d marry him. And I mean without the shadow of a doubt. I’ve never known something with such certainty.

The fire academy started at the end of August and finished up at the end of November. It was three intense months that left me exhausted in more ways than one, and during which I am so thankful I had a kind, compassionate man to lean on. I went back on the streets as a paramedic in late November.

And in December, into all of the work-related craziness, that sweet, simplest love turned into a beautiful ring on my finger and a wedding to take place in June.

As I write this and think back over the last year, my mind is spinning a little. How very much can change in a year’s time! What exactly was I doing a year ago? What were my dreams, my hopes? Did I have any anymore? Or had I effectively sidelined many hopes and dreams for a career that often leaves people rung out and used up? Where did I picture myself, five years down the road? Was I excited? I know I was exhausted, exhausted but resolute, and determined to face the future head-on and conquer it. That’s not really the same as excited, or optimistic. Occasionally in conversation I refer to having made some “survival decisions,” and although that sounds a little dramatic, that was my frame of mind. The hope and optimism and peace that God has blessed me with through our courtship and into our engagement are balm to the soul. I’m no longer looking at the bleak-seeming future and trusting God for survival. I’m looking into the future, thanking God that I’m thriving.

And then I look back seven years and my mind spins a little more. But standing that far back, I can begin to see the bigger picture of God’s unfolding plan, the seeds planted then that have begun to bear fruit, the dreams and desires that have stirred in my soul for decades even, just now poking their little leaves above the soil of the garden of my life. Glancing back through pages of this blog, I see that again and again. I see hopes and desires spelled out or hinted at from 7 years ago, when I first started this blog, just now being answered and brought to life. Everything happens for a reason, and that reason ultimately is that we have a sovereign God who loves us and loves to do that which brings good to His children.

If you had told me a year ago that right now I’d be counting down the days until I marry the love of my life (88 days!), planning a garden, learning how to drive a tractor, eagerly waiting for an order of chicks to get here in April, helping my rancher in this calving season, buzzing around on four-wheelers with him checking cows and doing chores, and caring for little calves needing extra TLC, I’d have called you crazy. And yet.

One of my favorite quotes from C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia is when Susan, in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, asks Mr. and Mrs. Beaver if Aslan is a tame lion. The Beavers laugh and say to the children that of course he isn’t tame! But he is good. And then like Martin Luther’s chastisement of Erasmus, “Your thoughts of God are too human.” Our God is neither tame nor human. But He is good.

And so, what a crazy year it was. What a crazy, wonderful year.

A Merry Little Christmas

This Christmas wasn’t been “as planned” in any way, shape, or form. Initially, I was quite disappointed that I’d be having to work on Christmas Day, especially with a new fiance, a sister about to get married, and almost-inlaws to spend time with. I’ve been feeling pretty worn out and run down with work lately, and I wasn’t looking forward to a holiday week, during which I would be exhaustedly trying to keep up the energy to see people and share in the fun and joy of Christmastime while recovering from 24 hour shifts on an ambulance.

Well, a week ago I started feeling puny and got tested for Covid, at the request of my work. Sure enough, I had Covid and was promptly put on quarantine. My family wanted nothing to do with me, since there’s a wedding in two weeks, but my fiance also came down with Covid, and in God’s graciousness it was mild for both of us. We spent our first Christmas together after all.

We’ve already begun making traditions that we will carry into what we trust and pray will be a Christ-honoring marriage. We have been reading an Advent devotional since December 1, which I’m sure will become a tradition for us. We cut and decorated a beautiful spruce tree. We’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life, and listened to a radio theatre adaptation of Charles’ Dickens beloved Christmas Carol. We’ve baked, and cooked, and worked on a wintry puzzle, a birthday gift to me from his mom. And our Christmas Day, though not what either of us would have chosen, was likewise delightful.

We made crepes for brunch, with homemade yogurt and the last jar of my homemade plum jam from a few summers ago. We also had homemade ricotta cheese and sausage that my rancher man and his brother-in-law made. It was a lovely start to the day. We finished our puzzle, drank coffee, exchanged gifts, went on a walk, made wedding plans, and ate a wonderful dinner of pork roast, grilled cabbage and sweet potatoes, and rice pilaf. We finished the day watching Murder on the Orient Express, an excellent movie for a winter evening.

This Christmas and holiday season is challenging for a lot of people right now. So many people are sick, and beloved Christmas plans and traditions have gotten sidelined in an effort to keep people as healthy as possible. But if those temporary disturbances distract us from the truth of Christmastime and steal our joy, we have repenting to do. The fact of the matter is that the God of the Universe willingly gave up the comfort and perfection of Heaven to stoop to become a mortal man, for the express purpose of dying a grusome death on our behalf, to give us a salvation we could never earn. Don’t let either the enjoyment of this time of year, or the disappointment either, distract you from that.

In spite of everything, this was indeed a Merry Little Christmas.