It’s four in the morning and we have been celebrating another major hurdle in our LONG WInter… We have propane gas in our tank and our furnace is pumping along, trying to get the house warmed up. Right now it’s at about 50 degrees in here, which is considerably more tolerant than the under 40 it was this morning. I’m not sure how long it will take to get the house up to a nice comfortable 65 or so, but hopefully tomorrow sometime. It’s already feeling better and it’s a pretty big house that has been pretty cold for the last six weeks.
I don’t know about you, but for us, this has been one tough winter. We haven’t had huge amounts of snow, but it just seems like we’ve had one little disaster or issue after another! We started out the season all being sick for nearly a month! Thank goodness that has finally passed, but with colds, pneumonia and the flu, it was a rough start for sure. And then our holiday sales were a little flat, and we count on that to help us through the year. We’ll make it, it’s just rough when you anticipate a certain influx to your budget and it falls way short for the first time in like 5 years. And then the whole propane tank fiasco… oh my goodness. You would think that filling a tank would not be that difficult. But let me tell you, it’s been one of those Green Acres Zone things… every time I try to find out more and peel back another layer, something else would be wrong with the picture and we would have to wait. Longer. It was trying to get everything in the right order… money, certification, repairs and then working with the right company. Throw in the total aggrevation of dealing with Hughes,net and their incredibly bad customer service and whoa baby, you have a rough winter.
I think a lot about the Little House on the Prairie book, The Long Winter. I know our modern version has little to do with how hard that winter in North Dakota must have been for the Ingalls family. My goodness, just reading about the hay twisting and food rationing makes me cringe. I’m reminded of that so often when I hear folks say they could never go so long without central heat or water as we have been doing. I smile, tell them we’re tough. We’re patient. It’s worth the wait when you have so many other blessings in your life. Yet, it’s hard, there are things that wear you down. But then, everyone has things in their lives that are challenges and issues. Several of my friends and readers, I know, are going through very difficult times, life and death times, health issues, dealing with elders, family things… so it makes our chilly house and lack of internet very tolerable. I know things could be a lot worse. We could be sitting around twisting hay to burn for months on end. Still, it’s been a long winter…
And taking care of the livestock has been a lot harder this year. We really lucked out, last year was a very mild winter. So it made things like toting water for 4 months fairly tolerable. (Yes, I do remember VERY fondly that we went 4 months beginning of last year without running water at the homestead… we are very patient women here….) I think hauling water this year would have been very unpleasant. As it is, we’ve been hauling water from the kitchen for the last two weeks because our pump outside has froze up. It’s bound to happen, when the temperatures are ranging down around zero and your pump head is all just exposed pipe, well, freeze up is pretty much going to take place.
Several of our roosters have a little frostbite on their combs and we’ve done the vaseline coating thing. It’s just plumb cold. We’ve lost a few birds to the cold even though we have heat lamps going in the barns. It just wears them out and thins out the less hardy of the animals. Thankfully, the big stock seem hale and hearty, in fact, almost too so! Mr. Bill, my friend and farrier, was out a few days ago to trim Cody’s hooves and said that my pony was a little on the fat side! Haha… Fat? He’s just fluffy. Nope, he’s a tub of equine chub apparently, but not too bad. Afterall, he hasn’t really been doing much this winter but stand around and eat with the sheep. We grain them all a little on the very cold days, just usually in the later afternoon to give them something to work on through the frigid night in their tummies. Perhaps we err a little on the too much side, but I’d rather do that then to have them loose too much condition, especially if we have lambs in the works. I’ve graded my ewes on this sheep scale and they seem to be doing fine, a little thick around the back and flanks but not overly so. I see them out in the cold mornings frolicking and running about, so they are getting a little workout here and there. It’s such a delicate balance between too much and not enough. We don’t feed free choice hay because if we did, they would be HUGE. Instead they get a flake or two in the morning and then some in the afternoon to work on. With eight sheep, two goats and a pony, that is not too much, about half a big bale a day. Then a little sweet feed in the evenings, if the temperatures dip too low.
We’ve been working hard on our farm website. It’s almost done. Just a few more days I wager. It’s going to be nice to have it finished and ready to present to the public. It’s got information on our breeding animals as well as the fiber critters and those offerings. And it’s got a nice selection of the various homestead products that we’ve been working on for the last few months. Maggie, especially, has been hard at work with her wooden creations and I’ll have my beautiful rugs and soaps available. After having so many people ask about them and want to be able to bring home a little WIndhaven, we have finally gotten the clue and gotten it all together. It will be nice, a little income stream from our various activities here on the farm will certainly help out. Just makes it all a nice rounded out venture.
Been hearing through the grapevine that we’re due for a cold February, but then an early spring. That will be nice. Very nice. I’d be very thankful if our fill up of propane lasts out this heating season. That would be nice. And I think we could all benefit from some outside time that isn’t in the single digits and is hopefully full of sunshine! The garden catalogs have been pouring in and each one makes me change and contemplate just what I will be growing this year! We got another big straw bale raised bed installed and now my garden is really shaping up. I know I’ll have to fill up a few of the new ones with good wintered compost from the barns, but that will be wonderful after feeling a little sluggish and thick ourselves! This year is going to be the third spring here at the farm and it’s going to be fantastic! I just feel it in my bones. Big garden, nice pasture rotation, lambs and no big projects!!!
You can imagine, though, that winter prep is going to be in my mind for a good while, however. I don’t want to be caught with our pants down again. At garage sales I will be stocking up on mittens, hats and boots. Warm coats, too. When you’re out working chores, your gloves get wet and your boots do, and coats just have to be tough. Having duplicates and triplicates of things makes it easier to change out of wet stuff and get going again. We’ll be working on better water management out there, including electric water bucket warmers and such. Warmer barns, insulation panels here and there… I want to make sure that each and every month of lovely spring and summer we remember to focus on the coming cold. It’s always there, just around the corner. Seasons are so important now to us… it’s kind of amazing how we’ve gone from worrying about the months and their hoildays and things, to now, seasons… I don’t think I’ve looked forward to the spring with any more excitement ever in my whole life! I just can’t wait to get planting and cleaning up and just getting the place in tip top shape.
Hoping that a warmer house will make it more pleasant to clean and organize inside. When you’re dealing with low temperatures in your day to day living, it just makes you a little reluctant to putz and clean and all in a frigid house. We found that we were spending most of our time in one room or another, with the doorways blocked off with fabric or plastic hangings and the kerosene heaters blasting away to make little warm spots for us. Now, we have those down and the sunshine is streaming in and we see that we need to get working on an early spring cleaning session! Over the next month or so, I think we’ll be doing a lot of inside things, getting ready for when we’ll want to spend all our hours outside! Once the website is finished, we’re going to be tackling some cluttery areas and getting things slimmed down and ready for the spring busy season! Just can’t wait!
Well, we have one more big hurdle, the internet. We need to raise about $200 to get the new internet and buy off the old. We’re working on it, heat was just a bigger priority. And we will still have about 200 feet of fence to finish before the green grass of spring rolls around. We’ll make it. Just going to have to keep plugging along and being very careful right now. Like everyone has to do! It sure has been nice, though, to have a freezer full of pork and chicken and eggs coming in, as well as some of the canned goods we put up from our very meager garden last year. My grocery visits have been mostly just for this and that, small lists of things we’ve run out. Milk, fresh veggies, noodles. I don’t think I’ve gone for a BIG visit for months now. Mostly just a few things… Butter. Cat food. Lightbulbs. Haha. Thank goodness for a close couple of dollar stores! They really do help out when the budget is tight!
Pretty soon our feed costs for the animals will plummet to nearly nothing! Keeping the flock in hay this winter has sure been a challenge. The highest I have paid was $10 a bale, the lowest, $4. I tell you, I wish that the $4 hay was plentiful but it was not. However, you can bet I bought as much as I could afford at the time, with what was available. Generally, we’ve been getting our hay from the feed store at $7 a bale. Three bales a week, pretty much… $21 a week for hay. Adds up. And chicken feed! Yikes! The cost of corn from the drought is unbelievable! Feed went up almost $6 a bag… it started out around $12 or so and now is $17 to $18 for decent feed. We go through about 150 to 200 pounds a week with all our birds… I tell you, those pullets better start laying eggs! (haha) We have been feeding about 40 pullets all winter long and we’ve gotten about 4 eggs total. And they eat a lot! Teenagers! I figure we’ve put about oh, $25 a week into them, for over 6 months now. That’s easily over $600 and for 4 eggs? Wow… ahem… those are some expensive eggs! Of course, once they finally get the hint and start laying, they will recoup that cost but still, growing pullets from chicks takes a lesson in patience!
With the way the internet is lately, my posts to the blogs feel more like letters to home from our western homestead. I feel the need to let you know we’re still alive, and everyone is doing okay. It’s like I worry I won’t hear from you all for a few days or weeks and I want to make sure I cram every little bit of information into the letter before it leaves by the stagecoach in the morning. Oh, it’s not really that way, but it does feel a little weird. The internet has become such an important day to day tool that without easy access, your whole life changes around. We’re getting by, with great thanks to our neighbors for letting us visit often and fill up on our net needs like crack addicts. SInce so much of our “real” business/jobs is online, it’s a challenge for sure. But hopefully, it won’t be too long and we’ll be able to get signed up for the new network and things should be super wonderful!
In the meanwhile, got to wrap up this letter and get it off on the morning stage. Kiss Grandma and give the baby a tickle for us.