Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Home School on the Homestead

Thanks Heather for asking about curriculum! We've taught our kids at home since our older son reached Kindergarten age. My goodness, there are so many options for curriculum these days. The choices were overwhelming when we started out 11 years ago and options have grown by at least 100 fold since!

We really like a classical education approach, primarily due to the chronological exploration of history. History is taught from the beginning of time through current age in 3 cycles, each cycle taking 4 years to complete. When we began this approach, we started with Tapestry of Grace and now use the books we've accumulated with Diana Waring. I like Diana Waring's materials because she includes CD's with her own lectures, while Tapestry of Grace would necessitate more preparation on my part. With all the choices on my time management and things I need to learn myself, it's so much easier to have a prepared lecturer available on the CD player!

So, here's a list of what we use:
History and Literature - Diana Waring
Math - MathUSee
Science - Apologia Science
Language - our 10th grader has writing assignments from a combination of Diana Waring recommendations or our own assignment based on current events
Language - our 4th grader uses Easy Grammar
Spelling - 4th grader uses Spelling Workout
Spanish - Rosetta Stone

To help with preparations for PSAT, SAT and/or ACT tests for our high school student, we include Vocabulary from Classical Roots.

In the past, we have used a smattering of things: Switched on Schoolhouse, Abeka, Sonlight and Bob Jones. All worked fine, except for some issues with Switched on Schoolhouse. We feel more comfortable with our current selections and will continue until it seems something needs adjustment. The thing I like best about our home school is that we can choose what fits us as teachers and our kids as students to keep them engaged and learning.

Our day is very full! We include some art projects, music lessons and some exposure to art and music appreciation as we can. With chores (inside and out), extracurricular activities and participation with our local church, time passes very quickly!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Unwelcome guests and my new favorite word!

Sometime during my growing up years, a certain Alfred Hitchcock movie appeared on TV with some regularity - The Birds. If you're unfamiliar with this film, a huge infestation of birds descend upon a little seaside village and wreak havoc on the residents. The birds are both gulls and these horrible black birds. Here's a few still shots from the movie and posters:

Images from that movie remain planted in my brain forever more and every time I see a flock like the following photo, I have immediate recall of those nasty birds:

Well, these creatures can be identified and they are grackles. As a lone bird, they could be attractive, except for that creepy yellow eye! When they 'speak', they have either a high pitched whistle or a terrible rasping sound. And they never are loners, as a matter of fact they travel in huge flocks creating havoc with their horrible sounds and bombardment of feces.
We saw them frequently in Texas, mostly in the central to south regions. Every year, it seems they are more predominant in regions further north. Besides being unpleasant to be around, they also drive every other species of song bird from the territory, robbing backyard bird feeders and bird baths of lovely cardinals, robins, sparrows, mockingbirds or doves.

I've despised them for years due to these factors, but as a chicken enthusiast, I have a new concern. Several diseases as well as harmful mites are carried by these creatures (and most other migratory birds). This can wreak havoc on a flock of domestic poultry!

Until the last couple of weeks, we've not had any of these creatures around, but now they've descended upon us and seem to like our tall oak and poplar trees. Yuk! Further complicating matters was my understanding that no one could harm grackles because they were defined as migratory birds by the Fishery and Wildlife Service.

But, I have a glimmer of hope....just look at this!

The Code of Federal Regulations, more commonly referenced as CFR provides this information:

50 CFR 21 §21.43

"A Federal permit shall not be required to control yellow-headed red-winged, rusty, and Brewer's blackbirds, cowbirds, all grackles, crows, and magpies, when found committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner as to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance:..."

Hot diggity! We have all kinds of justification to 'control' these birds since 'depredation' seems to be their very purpose in life. That makes 'depredation' my new favorite word and furthermore, since we reside outside city limits, we can operate a fire arm for 'control' with no worries.

Now, for those of you that might be horrified that I'm considering these birds to be terrific target practice, take heart that my aim is pretty lousy and the birds spook quickly. They also return quickly, so we'll see how this war goes, but it's official....Grackles are unwelcome guests at our homestead and we will pursue ridding ourselves of these pests and disease carriers!

We also may need to work on the area that will be the chickens' run to assure that we aren't releasing them from the safety of their coop into mite-ville and disease laden feces in the field!

We'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Second Day of Spring

I somehow missed noting that the first official day of spring was on the 20th. Undeniably, spring is all around us and we are discovering new blooms daily in the landscape and trees. We moved in during the fall, so our first spring is truly full of surprises! Not sure, but these blooms look most like a maple from our tree book.
One very brave hyacinth is very showy in the midst of many daffodils...
Daffodils are tucked into several areas around the house and along the driveway...
They are nicely coming out in stages, so we should be able to enjoy them for a more extended season.

Oh, boy...time has come to pull out the garden tiller we purchased from the previous property owner. We were told that it needed new belts and my husband had studied the manual to determine the type. He discovered that it needed belts. Period. Old ones had been removed, so the manual came out again to identify how to place them. After a few hours of fueling, adding oil, placing the belts on and tugging, tugging, tugging the starter cord...success! The almost 30 yr old tiller sputtered and coughed, but still worked.

My husband coaxed it along a few turns in the garden plot. It's extremely cranky, we're hoping due to lack of use. Our soil tests indicate we need fertilizer in the garden as well, so we'll purchase a good quantity and give the cranky tiller an opportunity to earn its keep!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Moving Day! Mission accomplished - chickens in coop, not garage!

Here's the end of the story - 26 chickens that seem much happier in the very roomy coop instead of being literally 'boxed in' the temporary brooder. They are making some adjustments, but mostly seem very content to run, flap their wings, 'chest bump' one another (establishing pecking order?), scratch the pine shavings, try out new perches, etc.
This will be the last time the boys sit down in pine litter - it will never again be that clean!
Here they are moments after being released in the coop - mostly checking out the fresh litter.
Earlier in the day, we worked feverishly to complete the last few chores of predator proofing (we hope!). Note the challenge of the chicken wire and hardware cloth that somehow clings to work gloves by a single strand! Our son was working on attaching hardware cloth to the 'ceiling' of the coop. We decided that the largest vulnerability for weasel/possum/raccoon penetration was via the roof line (corrugated roofing with no sheathing beneath).
After adding some insulation to the ceiling, we attached hardware cloth all over, securing it first with heavy duty staples, then adding boards to prevent prying critters from working their way in.
The last items added were the perches, attached with hinges to facilitate cleaning. Our younger son demonstrates the final sweep out. We know the coop will never be this clean again!
The automatic door is set to 'Night' position, meaning it will stay closed at all times. Our next project - the run! When a secure fence and covering is in place to keep the chickens from wandering off and predators from wandering in, the door will be set to 'automatic'. Using a photo sensor, the door will open about 1/2 hr after dawn and will close about 1/2 hr before sunset. Another feature automatically turns an interior light on 8 hrs after the night closure to tease the chickens into better egg production.

The two perches provide plenty of room for all the chickens to roost at the same height. We hope this minimizes feuding over the best sleeping spot! We still had them hooked up by their chains here so that we could add a layer of pine shavings to the floor.
Here the guys go at it, making a nice landing spot for the chickens to dismount the perches and also provide absorbent litter.

Four 8 cubic feet bags later, the area is all set for the chickens!
We saved an area for people only! This will provide storage space for feed, extra litter and cleaning tools.
Last check to see if everything's ready...
Now you can return to those top pictures to see how the chickens settled in after their transfer from the garage. How did we do that? We used one of our dog travel crates and scooped them out of the brooder, into the dog crate, rolled the dog crate on an old kid's little red wagon to the coop and released them into the coop. Although completely traumatized by the capture and rough ride in the wagon, they seemed to settle down within 30 minutes or so. Fortunately for us, it seems chickens are fairly resilient with inexperienced handlers!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gardening begins!

First, I must say that I was tremendously disappointed by the seed distributor's seed packaging! BORING! Just look at this!

What happened to those packages with the lovely pictures of the vegetables we hope to have? Sigh....

Well, now you can have a peek at our garden.
Just like the chickens, the garden is getting a head start in the garage with a nice climate controlled setting.
Last week, we started some lettuce seeds and just look at them go...or grow ;)

This week, we add broccoli, cauliflower and peppers...

For those following our chicken tales, this one is most definitely a boy! He's a silver-laced Wyandotte. We've been told that the clues are in his very red comb and early beginnings of wattles below the eye. His legs are also larger and more sturdy than the pullets. Wyandottes are known for excellent large brown eggs - but of course we won't be getting any of those from him! We're watching to see how he gets along with the girls and with us. He has very striking coloring, so hopefully he'll stay a peaceful guy and get to stay!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Spring snow, Name that Chicken and Where's the Beef!

I had heard the predictions earlier in the week for snow, but honestly had dismissed them. Not enough to really cover the ground or stick to pavement, it just reminded us that spring is not quite here yet. Here's some of our poor daffodils with bits of snow weighing the blooms down.
The temperature is already in th 40s so what snow we had is melted.

Here's another perspective of the chickens. I think we should call them pullets now instead of chicks. Still at least 10 weeks away from any egg production, so I believe they would be considered juveniles - just not babies!
About half of the Red Stars are more brown than white, but the plumage is still very spotty.
About half of the chickens will allow us to pick them up with no fuss and some seem to welcome 'petting'.

The dark 'bonus' chicken is not one of the friendliest birds. We have labeled it as a 'him' due to the likely odds of a hatchery shipping a 'free' male rather than a 'free' female. The boys have nomered him 'Bawk Sqwauk', but we're looking for help in identifying the breed and gender. He's beginning to look like a Silver Laced Wyandotte, which is a good egg laying breed - but not roosters, of course!

If anyone out there knows something about the gender or breed of this bird - please let us know! Curiosity is getting the best of us!

On a side note, we just stocked up on beef - a side of beef to be exact. In case you ever wondered how much freezer space is needed, we can tell you that this side of beef completely filled our 9.8 c.f. chest freezer. The butcher told us this particular side was on the larger end of average (between 250 and 300 lbs). Why would we do this? The cost of the beef was between $2 and $2.50 per pound - much less than grocer prices for the various cuts.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Moving day awaits

We're thankful for rain. We look forward to the beautiful spring that is being nurtured as we speak from the rain. The only downside is that rain slows us down! Here are the chicks - still in their cardboard brooder. They no longer need the heat lamp as they are quite comfy in the garage at about 60 F (it's heated). We can't wait to get them into their roomier, but chillier quarters of their own and park the vehicles in the garage again!Remember a mere five weeks ago?
Now look at them! Can you believe these are the same creatures?

They aren't as crowded as it seems - they are curious about the camera - right up until the flash!
We still have a long way to go for the first fresh eggs, but they are looking more grown up! We still don't know if the black one is a pullet or a cockerel, but time will surely tell. In the meantime, the routine is to fill their self-serve feeder each morning. We are now filling their waterer twice a day. The chicks kick some litter into the tray and water is absorbed rather than distributed. We removed some soiled litter each morning and add fresh to help absorb the waste and the odor. For prospective enthusiasts reading about the need for ventilation in the coop, believe it! For the birds and for YOU!

A funny thing happened in the coop the other day...

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, my husband set about attaching doors to the coop. We are working hard to construct the coop carefully due to stories we've heard about predators, so my husband is set to build a predator proof building to house our hens securely. He's doing an amazing job, helped by our sons. Back to the doors...he selected hinges and latches typically used for gates and they worked out beautifully.

See? No way for a coon or weasel to squeeze a prying paw there! Just to check it out, he went inside the coop, allowing the door to latch closed behind him.

Great fit! No openings apparent from this side either....but wait!
Hmm...if you look closely, you might notice that there is nothing on the inside of the door to release the latch. The door only opens from the outside.

OK - well, there's windows, right? These two have plywood still screwed to the wall. Not impossible to deal with...if you have a screwdriver...that is outside the building with the other tools.

Did I mention that I wasn't home? I had taken our youngest to soccer practice and would not return for a couple of hours. Our older son had been helping, but had been released to practice music on his keyboard. He typically does this with headphones on. He was in that building visible through the window that was too small to crawl through. So, my husband yelled...and yelled....and knocked...and waved...and yelled some more. Finally, he was able to get our son's attention and was rescued from his trap.
Since then, he has built and attached two more doors and shutters on the windows, being careful to leave at least one door open until he modifies them for a latch release on the inside!