Ok, so I have a Pet Opossum…

 

I know, I know…what an ugly creature, right? But his usefulness actually makes him much more handsome in my humble opinion. Yeah, Opossums can be a royal pain, and you have to take extra steps in property care and upkeep. Chickens have to be locked up at night. Seedlings have to be protected. but his value is worth the extra effort…Why?

The worst part of the year for opossums is spring in the garden.  They are quite good at digging up those nasty grubs that can set back a gardens root system, and that means I need to protect those seedlings. Not such a big deal when they have a good root system going. Oh, and their penchant for rodents, snails, and slugs can help my garden stay healthier too.

There are several reasons to let an opossum or two hang out around the homestead.

Did you know they can eat up to 5000 ticks a year? And that they have a natural immunity to pit viper bites, which means they can keep a property clean and free of those pesky slithering nuisances. They have been known to hunt down rodents, cockroaches, and snakes to keep them out of their territory. And it appears to work for skunks as well.  I have not had a stinky nocturnal visitor since I started allowing the opossums to hang around. And I don’t know about you, but midnight dog baths are not much fun for us.

Opossums are for the most part, naturally immune to rabies, and are actually 8 times LESS likely to carry rabies when compared to wild or feral dogs.

The opossum has 50 teeth to growl, run(albeit a little slower than most critters) belch, urinate and defecate. If all else fails, they roll over, get stiff, and bare their teeth as saliva forms around their mouth and a foul smelling liquid is secreted from their glands,and they can stay in this trance for up to 4 hours.

With their prehensile tails, they can not only hang from a branch for short times, and they can also carry grass and small brush with it as well.

They actually are much more intelligent in some areas than they are given credit for. They have an incredible memory for remembering where food is easy to come by, outscoring even rats and cats in mazes

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So when trying to decide whether to remove an opossum from your property, evaluate its usefulness first.

My fellow actually has one of the nicest coats i have seen, but I put out just enough cat food that he can come in for a snack before I go through the nightly routine of sending him on his way. It’s not like I want to go out and pet him, or get him so comfortable he follows me everywhere. I already have a passel of dogs and cats for that!

I get tick removal without the noise of guineas, and underground protection from bugs and grubs in the garden ( the chickens get the creepy crawlies during the day) . I have no snake problem,which I have had issues with in the past. It was a win/win for me. See if it is a winning solution for your lifestyle.

 

The Hay Is In!

The Hay Is In!

Hay. It seems simple. Cut it, rake it, bale it and move it up and out of the pasture. Voila! Food for the critters all winter, right? Yeah, not so much. Here at The Old Mason Homestead, we try really hard to be realistic about farming and living a self sustaining lifestyle. It’s hard work! This is our first year processing our own hay and we were starting from scratch so we knew we’d have a heck of a story to tell when it was all said and done. And we do aim to please!

Haying can be especially grueling, if only because of the fact that here on the Oklahoma prairie, hay time comes along right when the sun is attempting to boil any living thing into a hot mess. So as you read about this particular adventure, picture it all happening while the participants are sizzling like bacon in a cast iron skillet. We wanted to cut our own hay for a number of reasons, but the biggies were a) having top quality food for the cattle, b) cost of course, I mean, who wants to pay through the nose for feed if you don’t have to? and c) rehabilitating our fields so that we can implement an intensive grazing program.

It turns out, all hay is not created equal. Who knew? There are thousands of species of grasses and each has its own benefits and downsides. As anyone who knows me personally can attest, I have a relentless “need to know” everything I can on a subject before I start a project. I won’t bore you with the specifics on all the different grasses because frankly, according to my much less curious sister, all that information is just plain mind numbing. We knew going into this grand step in homesteading, that our pastures were not in great shape. It wasn’t until I hopped on my trusty steed (the side by side) and headed out to take a look, that I realized just how bad it was. IMG_7646

The Old Mason & Camo Cowboy think it is okay to commandeer my trusty steed!

Our land had been VERY heavily overgrazed, so it took some doing on my part to figure out how to fix it. But with some time and a lot of effort, we ended up with enough pastures that were actually growing hay we deemed cow worthy. That’s a simplified version, but if you want to delve deeper, shoot me an email. I am happy to share what I have learned.

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Before and after pictures. We still have pastures like the first,but it is getting better. We have had to work really hard to get rid of an introduced plant called sirecea, but we are slowly winning.

Now, on to the fun part! We wanted to be able to cut it as cheaply as possible and knew we were investing in the future, so we went on the hunt for equipment.  And did we have fun! I love auctions and consider myself a true auction junkie.  So this was the obvious choice for us to find just what we needed and still have some hope of staying on budget. Hunting for good deals at an auction should be an Olympic sport. I would be in GOLD city! The key is to be patient and ready to pounce at a moments notice. You also have to be ready to bow out. I had to learn the hard way that if you cant keep your hand out of the air, or your subtle, all knowing nods to yourself you will have a hard time getting good stuff for an amazing price.  It means going to lots of auctions, but hay, it is a great way to build a supply of mason jars too…and who doesn’t need more mason jars, right?

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We figured the logical way to start was at the beginning. There were lots of options, but I was really focused on the sickle mowers, and when we found the right auction, we scored big time. We were able to pick up two umm…very experienced John Deere sickles for $60 each. The good old #5 was in the least need of repairs, so we got right to work and had it up and running pretty quick. The Old Mason would surely scoff at my definition of ‘pretty quick’.. When you are dealing with equipment that is well over fifty years old, you just have to learn to look at break downs as an opportunity to run to town and pick up a few necessities while you are out scouring the plains for parts. Needless to say, we are fully stocked up on necessities here on the homestead now!

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Here is Old #5, the Bale Monster, No troubles Hay Rake and…necessities!

The next piece of equipment needed was a good rake. We were fortunate enough to come across one for $600 that needed about a dozen tines. No work there. Sometimes the stars do shine just right and we definitely needed some luck after the Old #5 experience. Now we really fell into a deal on the baler.  keep saying that and the Old Mason keeps smacking his head. This monstrosity came into existence back when Bananarama was singing about cruel summers (We definitely know a little about that!!) and break dancing was not what the Old Mason does when the cutter breaks a tooth and he hops around saying things that make the heifers blush. But we were able to pick it up for $750 and all it needed was some new bolts, and a couple of bearings. It still needs new tires, but we had it on the ground and baling for under a $1000. So while we were looking to economically bale hay in future years, we actually came out pretty good on this year’s hay as well. Total cost of equipment and parts was $1720. If we had hired someone to cut it for us, it would have cost $1320. So we spent an additional $400 this year, with only the cost of upkeep in future years. Pretty good, right?

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Tires…gently used. 

We thought so, and are glad we went this route, even if we did have to spend some time in the shop getting it into shape. But shouldn’t we add in our labor to find the actual cost? Heck no! I prefer to keep my sanity! I think instead we should just sit back and count the bales of hay instead of analyzing profits and losses. I feel way richer that way. We now have the pride and security of knowing we are sitting on 101 bales of top grade chow for our bovine fertilizer machines. If only the haying machines were so reliable!

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If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Like 95 more times.

P.S.  Now that we have this new, forever homestead up and running, you should begin to see more regular posts! Please feel free to drop me a line and let me know if you would like to see more of these types of articles. Feedback is always welcome.

It’s BABY Time!

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Spring is the time for baby’s on the farm! It is one of the busiest and most fun times of the year. Are they girls? Do we get to name them? Or are they boys and get a number? This is one of the ways I deal with who has to go eventually. Yes, girls have to go sometimes too, but I know pretty quick whether I am allowed to get attached or not. For instance, I have a young heifer (Bernadette) whose mother surprised us all last year and gave us a calf on December 18, when she was slotted for the sale barn if she did not calf by the next spring calving season. Although I knew it would happen if she didn’t give us a calf, I also have a soft spot for her, so I was really happy when she did, even if it was the wrong time of the year. Bernadette and I like talking to each other when we get quiet time. Which doesn’t happen very often because all the other cows like us, especially if they think I might have a treat somewhere in my pockets. Anyway she gave us a beautiful  little heifer who is turning out just like Bernadette. Not pushy, just happy to come stand or lay by the fence when we are working close by.  So we named her Brownie…And I get to keep her!IMG_7633b

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While I already have chickens…this is the year I will decide what heritage or rare breed I will begin to breed here on the farm. I have narrowed my choices down to Wyandotte, Brahma, or Cochin. I have raised and love the Wyandotte and Cochin, but I like the size of the Brahma, and I hear it is a gentle breed as well. Let me know if you have any breeds you would suggest!

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And turkeys! I simply cannot make up my mind what breed of turkeys I want to raise! There are some beautiful rare breeds out there that are just stunning.  Maybe I can get an expert or two to give me some articles to post on this subject to help me make up my mind!

Hogs. I am not quite ready for hogs this year…too much fence to fix for the livestock I have already, but I am trying to do some research about the Tamworth. I really do not want to have to confine them, and want a hog that can be safely run in a pasture type environment and this so far seems like the best choice for me. They do not mature as quickly from what I understand, but if the winter feed bill is lower, they will probably be worth the wait.

Please send me your comments and suggestions if you have any ideas on what the best breed of hog would be for me! Turkeys too!

Feeding Your Chickens on the Cheep! (Episode 1)

Raising free range chickens is always an adventure. Especially when your birds are as spoiled as mine! My rooster seems to instinctively know when I want to sleep in and crows so early and loud that I am fairly sure he would wake the family on the farm next door if their rooster wasn’t having a crowing contest with him. Once Beakey the rooster starts his hollering, my fine feathered ladies are quick to get moving, which means they want me to spring them from the coop, like now! Whether I am ready for it or not, my day on the homestead has begun. So I throw on my housecoat and step into my mud boots so I can trudge out to the barn to liberate my chickens. Luckily they always cackle a quiet thank you as they shuffle past me on their way to find breakfast. All except for Beaky. He has to stop and give me the stink eye for a second or two (I tell him every day that I came as fast as I could, but I don’t think he believes me) before he lurches off after the ladies in his distinctive jerky gallop.

Beaky the Funky Chicken
Beaky the Funky Chicken

This ritual is only part of what I love about allowing my chickens  free reign of the place. It all works together in the perma-culture symphony we are creating on the homestead. And it makes for super healthy chickens that are so inexpensive to feed that it is almost ridiculous!

With a little extra planning in the garden, you can provide nearly all of the nutrients your feathered friends need to be healthy and happy. It is important for chickens to have a diet consisting of a variety of different foods to ensure proper nutrition. Your birds need about 1 part protein for every 4 parts of carbohydrates to ensure proper egg production. Keep in mind that calcium is also a very necessary component in their diet. They need at least 3% of their total intake to be calcium.

 

BUGS – Chickens love bugs like a rabbit loves carrots! Your chickens will constantly be on the lookout for a nice juicy bug or two or ten, which gives them the majority of the protein they need. And that my friends, makes it a snap to control insects in your garden. They can clean out a pack of potato bugs in no time flat! It is rare to see a chicken choose to eat your prized tomato when there is a bug to be chased down and eliminated.

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COVER CROPS – Yup! I’m talking about weeds. Really more like plants that we see as weeds and chickens see as a smorgasbord of yummy greens and flowers. If you strategically plant things like Comfrey, Clover, Nettle and of course Chickweed around your garden, your chickens will gravitate to those plants instead of wiping out your strawberry patch. The best thing about these plants is that they provide the exact nutrients your chickens crave and need.

Comfrey - Chicken Feed ala Free!
Comfrey – Chicken Feed ala Free!

GARDEN VEGGIES – It is a simple concept. But it is dang hard to let happen. A free range chicken IS going to partake of all the yummy vegetables growing in your garden. After all, a chicken has to do what a chicken has to do! But there are a few things you can do to mitigate the damage they inflict on your main food crops. One of the biggest things you can do is to plant extra. If you have planted a perimeter of cover crops around the garden (especially on the end of the garden that the little cluckers will hit first) then this little bit extra ‘for the chickens’ should be enough to keep them satisfied. Not to mention that one of the cutest things I have ever seen is watching my chickens jump up to reach the beans I planted especially for them!

Chicken Feed

CALCIUM – This is a BIG deal! It takes a lot of calcium for a hen to crank out nice, strong shelled eggs. She simply must have the extra calcium left over to keep her own structure strong. Luckily, it relatively easy to supply all she needs naturally. Those weeds we were talking about earlier? They have tons of calcium. No oyster shells needed, especially in the summer months.

Eggcellent Eggs!
Eggcellent Eggs!

I could go on forever about my feathered flock. Certainly they are not just food. They are an integral part of this homestead and it’s constant evolution toward a self-sustaining eco culture. They are a true pleasure to care for in a natural way. And it is wonderful to only have to run to the chicken palace instead of driving all the way to town when I run out of eggs! Please comment or leave questions below. I always love hearing your best chicken stories as well. Also stay tuned…next time I will show  you how to feed your chickens on the cheap in the wintertime!

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