Thursday, January 30, 2014

We said goodbye to what started our homestead - "Henny" and "Penny"

Warning: We cull our old unproductive chickens (cull – kill), and this is a post about those chickens. They were loved and had a nice life – and a pretty awesome one this last summer. We eat meat, and we are happy to eat meat that also had a pretty darn good life. This is our style of homesteading and I know not everyone would do the same. That's okay.

Happy chickens.
Henny and Penny a.k.a. Ruby Red and Yarona
Two of our original laying hens were culled by Joel on Saturday. We got our first three laying hens in 2012 and they were already nearly 2 years old. Two of them were wonderful layers, the unproductive one (we guess Red) stayed to keep them company. We could feed three, and get two eggs a day, and that worked out okay with the organic feed we were getting. This summer they had a really awesome and relaxed life as we allowed them to free range entirely. They had stopped laying eggs (or hid what eggs they did lay), but as free range chickens, they didn’t eat any grain anymore and were generally a fun addition for everyone. They were allowed to roam free, get treats from Grammie and do whatever they wanted. They were the sweetest things and let Noah carry them all over the place. They were how Noah learned to be a chicken farmer.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Uh, Oh. Only Two Full Days Left in My Garden Planning Month

I intended to organize my garden thoughts and write some sort of garden update last week. That didn’t happen. Instead I spent time with the boys and forgot about my “to do list” for that day (read about that here) – which meant I forgot about it for the next 3 days as well.

That's how much I have left in my book...
A new goal is to finish that lovely book I’ve been reading, Born-Again Dirt, by the end of the month. I've only got TWO more days to do it! It had a quote that I shared on my facebook page and wanted to share here as well:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

These are a few of my favorite things: date nights, my husband in the woodshop, and family organization

I love sharing these type of posts. It's a fun way to tell you some highlights of what's been going on.

These are a few of my favorite things lately:

Date nights, bees, and locals
Joel and I had our first agriculture related date night last week. We went to a local viewing of “Vanishing of the Bees” put on by Slow Foods and G.A.L.A. It was really great to see so many from the local community together in one place. When you discover a new local group, it seems like you’ve just discovered this covert operation. It’s pretty special. But in all seriousness, it was wonderful to find some more locals who were interested in some of the same stuff we are. I’m sure it will be even more so if we get to a Small and Beginner Farmer’s meeting. There were beekeepers from local bee clubs and we were told about a bee school starting in February in Concord. I don't think we'll be able to attend that since it's too far away, but wouldn't that be fun!

We are still going to give this a try, but a local beekeeper warned us it might not be too successful (but try anyway).
He went to bee school in 94 and hasn't had success trapping wild bees because there aren't too many around.
Many have died off due to a bee pest - some sort of mite.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

It is quite a joy

This morning, I had feet in my face as I sang the numbers of their toes and the boys giggled and asked for more. I had feet tangled in my hair as the boys laughed hysterically and used me as a jungle gym. I’m pretty sure I learned a few wrestling moves as the boys wanted to be flopped and tossed around like sacks of flour. I also dove across the living room on the hassock while pretending to be some sort of flying superhero to save the grumpy boys from imminent danger of perpetual bad attitudes.

rough morning
Noah and I pretended to be sleeping and snuggled. Isaac crashed the party.

That's all normal mom stuff. But some days it's more significant.

It’s all too quickly that the snuggles are less often. I know Noah might always like to cuddle a little, but it might not be like the warm sleepy snuggle before bed when he wishes he could stay with me instead of sleeping. There are times when his “I like you” means more than his “I love you” as it catches me off guard.

I'm glad he's growing up, but some days, like today, I have to forget about plans and just cherish the moments.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Norway - The good bull


Why am I happy?

Well, mostly because Norway just earned his keep a little more again. How did that happen, you ask?

Did he calmly allow me to walk up to him and brush his back? Did he protect Buttercup from a ferocious wild dog?

Those would be good, but no, he didn’t do those things.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

These are a few of my favorite things: Lattes and Friendly Cows!

As if you didn't already know I loved lattes. When I got home from our fantastic weekend away, I made a few lattes. Mmm… So wonderful. Creamy raw milk, microfoam froth, and smooth espresso shot! Nuf said.

And yesterday I was able to hang out with Buttercup a little. Norway wasn’t too pleased and he’s too feisty for my liking. But we’ll see how he continues. It had been a while since I'd singled out Buttercup so much.

Isn't he so handsome!

Monday, January 20, 2014

A fantastic weekend away

We just went away on a lovely weekend to visit our first home as a couple and young family, the Berkshires. It was a very nice and peaceful visit with its share of funny situations and adventure (our road trips are never dull). For most of the day Friday, I tried to get ready for our trip and made a simple list for my parents who so graciously said they would do our chores for the weekend.

Our weekend was fantastic.

(Isaac was making funny faces, so I started recording this video and we had a little conversation about where we were going.)

We started driving at around 5:30pm on Friday for our 4 ½ hour trip. We pulled up a hotel coupon on the phone and tried to check into a hotel in Holyoke, MA. Unfortunately they claimed the coupon had to be printed and I don’t usually travel with printers, so the desk clerk wouldn’t take the coupon and we didn’t want to spend $90 instead of the $50 that the coupon advertised. So we kept driving the rest of the way. We finally found a coupon book on I-90 and stayed at a Super 8 in Lee, MA – which was very nice for us. The kids did great both nights in hotels! We’ve had to each sleep with one child in the past because they couldn’t handle the excitement of sleeping together. This time they happily shared a bed, and stayed in the bed!

In the morning we leisurely checked out and headed to Lenox to have breakfast and lattes at The Haven. This is the café I worked at for a brief time when we lived there and the café that inspired my current latte love and unconventional latte making (read about that here). Their food also got me through some health experiences that were cured by a careful non-dairy, no gluten and no sugar diet for a few months. I was able to find things on their menu for my lunches at work and then use their creative, from scratch, local whole foods meals to inspire my cooking at home.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Homestead Update: In a funk? I guess I need to hug a cow.

I think I’m in some sort of homestead funk. We are doing well with all our goals this month. I must just be tired. But hey, I really wanted to write to you all. So I’m just going to start jabbering instead of planning this out or themeing it.

I’ve got quite the current reading list. I just received my first seed catalog yesterday from Baker Creek Seeds! Yes, but not just my first this year; my first ever! In the past, I just purchased at stores and from Amazon – but I’m loving the variety in the catalog and how I can pick these crazy beautiful heirloom seeds I’ve never heard of!

I finished my list of general seeds we want and generally where I want to put them in the garden. I’m using the companion planting book again and I love how much it is helping me be smart about where we put our plants. In a small garden, it would be easy for me to put two plants next to each other that hate each other.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The quest for the perfect dual purpose chicken – and why we are raising them as dual purpose

When I was picking out our chicken breeds, I depended a lot on small chicken farmers who could compare and contrast different breeds from personal experience. That's how I landed on Barred Rock. I found a chicken farmer who raised a flock of Barred Rock and enjoyed their dual purpose use as well. But I couldn’t find anyone who had done both buckeye and other breeds and I couldn’t find anyone who had used them as dual purpose in this day and age. Buckeye were developed to be a superior meat breed while being dual purpose. They are currently endangered.

The Quest to find our perfect dual purpose chicken

You’ll have to understand our objective: we want a sustainable flock for our family homestead that can hatch its own chicks, reduce our chicken feed cost (forages), and that tastes as good as it can and grows to a reasonable size. They won’t be like Cornish Cross at the store – but we are okay with that. I like this old traditional chicken taste. We aren't trying to make money, we are trying to eventually save a little, raise it here in a kind way, and lessen time invested and start up cost each year. The only other breed I might be interested in is Jersey Giant which is another old meat chicken breed that was pushed out by the Cornish cross.

A word on Cornish Cross vs. dual purpose chickens:

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Our Super Easy New Kombucha Set Up - Jar with spigot and ez cap bottles

I bottled up our first kombucha with our new system. I wanted to share it with you because it is super easy now!

We chose to make kombucha at home (last April) because we enjoyed kombucha but didn’t want to spend the money. Kombucha is also a fermented food and is good for your gut with enzymes in it. (It’s not alcohol.) So it’s a fun fizzy beverage we can make at home without a co2 tank and it has the benefits of enzymes.

(You can read more about our kombucha in this post.)

Okay, so here’s the cool new set up and how it works:

This is a giant 2 gallon glass jar with a plastic spigot (plastic is important). You'll have your SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) and the starter kombucha tea (from previous batch) in the jar when you start. Make 2 gallons of strong brewed black tea in another vessel (8 tea bags per gallon filtered/distilled water - we steep for 20 minutes) and after you remove the tea bags, mix in 2-3 cups sugar when hot (1-1.5 cups per gallon). Allow the tea to cool to room temperature and then add to the kombucha jar.

Now let it sit for about 9 or 10 days until the sugar has been eaten off by the SCOBY. The sugar feeds the scoby, so it shouldn't taste too sweet by the end, but you can adjust the sweetness by deciding how long you want to let it ferment. 

Our full jar of kombucha ready to bottle

Friday, January 10, 2014

Our Homestead Schedule for 2014 - because we don't want to fall behind!

So, a couple of us are sick as dogs, Noah and me. Noah is resting with TV, and a puke pale, and I’m camped out on the couch with my notes so that I can put a Homestead Schedule together like the one Reformation Acres did. Good thing this is enjoyable and not exerting. All Noah and I want to do is sleep, but Isaac is pretty active still.

I hadn't thought of putting all my to-do lists into one place like this (I'll still keep a separate seed starting schedule). I found Reformation Acres's info on when to preserve certain crops especially helpful in her yearly homestead schedule! We have a whole host of things we don't want to forget, like getting a hunting licence, getting ready for bees, and tapping some trees on the property.

I'll also be using The Old Farmer's Almanac All Season Garden Journal. I've found its tips and reminders helpful as well and it has places to record what seeds you purchased and from what source, and then when you plant them.

By the way, facebook friends, thanks for getting us to 50 likes! That’s pretty fun! If you haven't yet, and would like to get updates and other articles I mention and suggest there, like On Brown Croft Acre here: Sometimes I'll mention other little tidbits about the homestead, share another blogger's article, or just post something fun.

Okay, lets get started.


Set Homestead Goals (Done!)
Plan Seed Starting/Sowing Schedule
Plan Seed Purchases when catalogs arrive
Design Gardens
Plan perenial purchases
   - This year: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, elderberries?
Plan chick purchases
   - Chickens and Turkeys
Home Remodeling Needs
Join Small and Beginner Farmers of New Hampshire
Do Taxes!
(Check hunting courses and sign up when available)
(Get Maple supplies to tap what’s on the property)
Figure out estimated homestead cost for year and make adjustments where needed

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A picture recap of Brown Croft Acre! - How it began

I think Brown Croft Acre really started with our first three chickens. We had gardens, but we hadn’t gotten to a point that those really made any real long term impact on our budget or food. We got as much produce as we spent on the garden, and we could know it was raised organically without pesticides or chemicals, but it wasn’t the thing that spurred on the rest.

We had hopes that we would someday have laying hens in a chicken tractor, but were planning to wait until the summer after Isaac was born so that we could do more research on designs and what chicks to get – and make sure we get chicks on time too!

I guess sometimes you just dive in head first though. My mom saw a chicken tractor for sale on craigslist that came with three already laying hens and Joel and I decided to get things started. It was doable!

We had the bug.

The chickens gave us enough eggs for our family. They were inexpensive even with organic grain! And we learned that things aren’t always perfect, but you can keep plugging away and trying to make improvements.

So with the chickens, started Brown Croft Acre. The infamous gateway animal. But we didn’t have the name for quite a while after that.

Here is a sweet recap in picture from our journey. Thanks for taking this journey with us so far! I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2014 holds.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Around the Homesead: Photos and books - December 2013 to Now

I figured I would do a little update of pictures from around the homestead that haven't made it into their own post and books I'm currently reading and using. Here you go! Enjoy!

Photos from around the homestead

Isaac and Noah are enjoying the rebounder.

Joel and my Dad lit up a few brush piles in the heavy snow storm we had recently.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Epiphany – find the greatest gift

Today is full of thoughts on gifts.

The wise men traveled far to give gifts to the child that would be found under the star!

After we talk about the wise men, recollect the whole Christmas story as a reminder, and set the remaining crèche set out – we go about our morning. Mom reads a little from a book, another gift. And Isaac wanders around in the sweetest pants, another gift. I happily wear my socks, that out of all my birthday presents, have something special to them. A practical, comfortable gift.

And I realize, I am so thankful for warm socks, but also the feet that go in them. The little feet of little ones that will one day be big. The mom feet I have so that I can stand and make oatmeal.

I’m thankful for the plenty of clothes. The plenty of food. The plenty of provision. The plenty to give.

I am thankful for the children I am privileged with. That I did not deserve. Because I am reminded today, just like the rest, that I am not a perfect mom. I am far from sinless and I am forever grateful that the guilt of wrongs and shortcomings doesn't have to weigh me down.

I am grateful that my children see a mom of safety and comfort. That they see someone they want to lie down next to and take their nap. A mom that they only fall asleep with once they’ve told her they like her and love her. That I would know that even despite all my shortcomings for them, they see a  mom they love.

What a humbling gift. I did not deserve them. This tangible, visible gift, right in front of me. A gift that sees past my failures.

And if this, today, was awe inspiring, how much greater the gift of Christ! The gift the wise men went to worship. A gift that came out of love while we were still falling short.

The maji recognized our greatest gift. They searched and followed the star until they saw Jesus and His mother outside their house in Bethlehem.

If you haven’t found Him, search. He has determined who will search and find Him.

If you seek, you will find.

The One who created it all, came. Incomprehensibly, a baby, all God and all man.

Because He loved us. And so that we could know Him, love Him, and be with Him forever in the kingdom.

While a sacrifice had to be paid for our shortcomings in perfection, He Himself, gave Himself, perfection, to be the sacrifice that He required for us to be with Him forever.

What a gift! What love! What freedom! We could never live up to perfection - Christ was perfect in our place.

"How many kings stepped down from their thrones to romance a world that was torn all apart." - Downhere

Friday, January 3, 2014

Is raw milk worth it? Is it easy to make butter and yogurt with it? Hint: yes.

(okay fine, the answer should really be: It can be.)

The things we do for our raw milk. Currently Buttercup is not in milk because we are waiting for her first calf. It was a wait we expected and it will be well worth it because she is a good fit for our homestead. For now, we purchase from a wonderful farmer in Plymouth. Most weeks, I pick up in Holderness on a Wednesday, but with the snow, the days have been changing. So today, I took the longest route so that I had the best roads with fewer sharp curves, and it took an extra 20 minutes to get there.

Why do it?

Well, I love raw milk. Everything I can do with it tastes fantastic. Things are creamier, and richer! And I can make whipped cream, butter, yogurt, and “cream of” soups from scratch.

It also isn’t heat treated, which takes the good bacteria and enzymes out of the milk (you can read tons of info by googling, here is a website I pulled up: If you don’t think raw milk is safe, well, you’re just not going to think any of this is important or interesting – but I definitely think it is safe if you know who you are getting your milk from and trust their ability to use common sense and cleanliness. When you get to bigger operations, their ability to keep track of all this can diminish and you have the need to pasteurize etc. But I would argue that farms with a few cows are more than able to keep track of the quality of what they are producing and selling (they drink it themselves too!). Let’s not become too paranoid about the raw foods that God created!

I love our farmer. She uses organic grain, but doesn’t feed it in excess and knows that more grass fed is better. She buys organic hay from wherever she can find it (which can be very far away!), and she doesn’t use antibiotics etc.

I trust the milk! We get 2 gallons a week for $16. That seems steep if you aren’t used to buying raw milk, but it’s the going price, and it’s worth it. You can use it to make several dairy products (raw butter, raw whole milk yogurt, raw sour cream) and save a little money on those.

I don’t currently do a lot of this. My big crock pot isn’t working so I haven’t been making yogurt. But we should. I could make it my old way on the stove top, but I haven’t been. I do make butter for us and use the buttermilk in biscuits or pancakes. I’ve been using those butter paddles I found and they work great.

The remnant of a "stick" of butter I shaped with the butter paddles
If I were concerned about getting more for my money, I might do something like this:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Starting 2014 with our long list of ongoing goals

While I'm getting this ready to publish, the boys are playing around me. I just surveyed them on their favorite animals here. First I asked Noah, "What is your favorite animal here? Cows, Chickens, Rabbits or Cats?" His answer, "Pumpkin!" I was a little perplexed for a moment, but he meant our Rabbit, Pumpkin! I let him know pumpkin couldn't come in if the living room was a mess... chirp chirp. I guess he'd rather play with toys right now than Pumpkin.

I think you can guess which one is "Pumpkin".

Isaac's response was loud as usual. "NOORRRWAAAY!" We know his favorite.

Anyway, apparently, I’m on the Facebook page sharing my goals for next year as they occur to me. I didn’t mean to start doing that. I’ve been thinking about the lessons of 2013 and the goals of 2014, and I haven’t put it all down in writing until now. I know writing it down can be helpful, but I guess I wasn't in a rush to make a list that I call complete. I already did a Fall Homestead Recap of 2013 and included a lot of details about what we improved last year and what we still need to.  We just keep trucking away over here and are hopefully improving things as we go.

But, since it can be easy to forget, here is a long list of larger homesteading goals I know of (I'll probably be thankful I wrote this a time or two this year and at the end of the year when I'm looking back!):

Learn more about using the fiber from our angoras, or sell it. I'm hoping to get some wool cards soon and Joel is planning to make me a drop spindle too.

Bees! I’m hoping to trap our own. These two books will be our guides as we try to trap our own and use the top bar beekeeping method: and read this one yesterday). The purpose is to help the garden and to have a source of sweetener that comes from our own backyard. That means we need to build the top bar hives and swarm traps before the winter is over.



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