Monday, September 26, 2016

The Monarch Butterfly Project

Our home is surrounded by an abundance of milkweed.  If you know anything about monarch's, you'll know they need milkweed plants to lay their eggs on.  Last year we tried hunting for eggs but luck was not on our side.

This year we had our house painted and I HAD to pull out our milkweed for the painters to be able to reach the foundation.  No worries, the persistent milkweed came back and thrived.  This year was different though.  After a heavy rainstorm bent the milkweed to the ground, we noticed eggs on the underside of the leaves!  Not only did we see eggs, but DADDY LONGLEGS were feasting on the eggs!

In an attempt to save the eggs, we collected as many as we could and brought them indoors.  A total of 17, shewww.  Did I mention caterpillars poop, a lot?  I digress.

We unknowingly turned this project into a unit study.  It was fantastic and well worth the little bit of effort we had to put in.

Bringing in the Eggs

For each egg we found, we cut the leaf off the plant and brought it in.

We laid the leaf, face up, on a paper towel where it wouldn't be disturbed.

Temperature in the house was kept between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Within 3-5 days, the eggs would hatch.

Preparing a Milkweed Plant for the Indoors

We prefer to use beer bottles to house the cut milkweed plants.  One cutting per bottle.

Fill the bottle with water, and then wrap the nozzle over with plastic wrap.  Poke a hole in the top of the plastic wrap (for when you insert the plant).  Covering the bottle with wrap prevents the larva from wandering into the bottle and drowning.

Try to find a tray to set the bottles upon.  Caterpillars poop....a lot.  The tray helps contain the mess.  Otherwise it'll end up all over the floors and can easily be tracked throughout the house.  Eeek!

Choose a healthy plant and cut on an angle at the base of the plant.

Thoroughly inspect your plant for predators and give a light rinse.

Remove the bottom leaves.  That allows the stem to go deeper into the bottle, providing  more support for the plant.

Place plant stem into bottle.

Transferring Egg to Plant

You'll need steady hands for this one.  When you notice the top of the egg turning black, the larva is about to emerge.  Now is the time you'll want to cut down the host leaf as small as you can get it without disturbing the egg and then carefully place the bit of leaf with the egg on it, right side up, on a leaf of your indoor milkweed plant.

This way when the larva emerges, it won't have to travel far to get to the live, healthy milkweed plant in order to eat.

Watching the Larva Grow

The larva will grow, and grow, and grow... for approximately 10-14 days.

They'll devour the plant and you'll have to be prepared to cut a few more to feed them through the 2 week period.  Transferring them when they get bigger isn't too hard, just be gentle when pulling them off the old plant and hold them steady when putting them on the new plant, at least until they get their footing.

When the 10-14 days is almost up, I recommend bringing in a branch that touches the milkweed plant.

Wanderlust and Pupa Stage

Before turning into a chrysalis, the larva will wander.  They're looking for the perfect, safe place to begin their chrysalis transformation.  Some wander off the milkweed plant and on to a branch or tree, I like providing the option...indoors.

When they're ready, they'll find their spot and spin a silk button anchoring them to the branch.  This button is AMAZINGLY strong.  Once anchored, they'll hang in the shape of a J and within 24-48 hours they will transform into the most stunning chrysalis you'll ever see.

Here they'll stay as a chrysalis for another 10-14 days.

Closing in on the 14th day mark, the pupa (otherwise known as the chrysalis) will begin to turn clear and you'll be able to see the miracle within.  A black and orange butterfly will emerge within 24 hours.

A Magnificent Monarch Butterfly Emerges!

The casing around the butterfly will split open and the butterfly will gradually make it's way out.  It will hang upside down, fanning itself (swaying back and forth) until the wings have dried.  I noticed this takes about 4-5 hours.  When they start walking around and getting curious, I let them climb on to my finger and walk them outside.  From there I placed them on a high plant, or tree in the sun and they left when they were ready.

I offered a few butterflies a sponge soaked in sugar water, but they didn't seem interested.

Fun Fact:
The difference between a male and female monarch is the male's have a black spot on a vein on each hind wing.  We had 2 boys and the rest were females!

This is a male.
You'll notice, on either side of the body,
black dots on the hind wing veins.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hay Dispenser DIY

Ugh.  Hay.  Everywhere hay.  We've tried netted slow feeder bags, we've tried canvas "tough" bags, buckets, buckets with lids and a small hole cut in the top but NOTHING worked.  After watching the goats pull hay out of the bucket in one chunk and leave 3/4 of it on the ground I knew we had to come up with something.

I perused the scrap pile and my eye caught a few pieces of 2x4 and some pallet wood slats.  There, an idea was born.

Bear and I framed out our new hay feeder.  It's 3 sided with an opening at the top to insert leafs of hay.  Chunks of wood were added to each side and one in the middle bottom portion for mounting (see mounting pieces circled in red below).

Easy peasy, this project was done in 30 minutes and so far so good.

2- 18" 2x4's (sides of frame)
1- 36" 2x4 (bottom of frame)
3- 36" 1x4's (slats to be screwed onto the front of the frame)
3- 4" 1x4's (circled below in red.  Screw onto back of hay feeder, one on each side, and one at the bottom middle for mounting)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Our Nigerian Dwarf Goat Kidding

Back in January, we had a beautiful buck visit the farm for about a month.  As hoped for, 5 months later we have been blessed with beautiful, spunky goat kids.  I read everything I could get my hands on, and watched videos late into the night to prepare for the imminent kidding.  On June 30, I began seeing signs that labor was near with one of our does.  Let me tell amount of reading or watching videos will prepare you for what actually happens.  It truly takes going through the process to really learn what's going on.

During the pregnancies (we have two does, they were a week apart with their pregnancies) I fed them Kalmbach grain, black oil sunflower seeds, and plenty of hay.  Toward the end of their pregnancies I cut a vitamin E capsule and squirted it on their food and sprinkled it with Diamond V yeast.  Since kidding, I've continued with the vitamin E to aid in healing, and the yeast to help with dry, flaky skin (some say the yeast helps with milk production as well, however, that's not my intention for using it).

Signs of Labor


If I were to point out the main signs of labor for a newbie, I would highly encourage them to check the ligaments daily.  If you check them early on in the pregnancy and are at ease finding them then you'll know without a doubt when they're gone.  The ligaments are located on either side of the tail where the tail meets the does hind end. Most people say they feel like pencils, I like to say they feel like a small bungie cord because they're not as rigid as a pencil.  Upon entering labor, those ligaments will soften and eventually disappear.  Gone, to the point of being able to squeeze your way completely around the tail. Pure mush.

You can faintly see the "plug", white mucous,
dripping off the doe.

I noticed a white discharge, called the "plug", on both does just a few hours before each kidding in addition to the disappearance of the ligaments.  One doe had the white discharge which was followed by a long string of amber mucous, which is the amniotic fluid.  However, that amber mucous never appeared on the second doe, which threw me off my game.  The saying that no two pregnancies/labors are alike is most definitely true.

Inability to Get Comfortable:

Both does were very uncomfortable.  They could only lay down for a few minutes at a time before they were up again pawing at the ground.  One even stood with her butt in the corner trying to "sit" on the wall.

Other signs:

In addition to the main signs that I easily noticed above, a goat in labor may "bag up" or their udder will fill in to the point of being very tight and possibly even shiny in appearance.  This didn't happen with either of mine so it isn't a tell tale sign.

The does tail may take on a strange angle.

They may stare off into space, or be very loving and affectionate.


Longer, thicker string of amber colored mucous.
This is the amniotic fluid.
One doe wanted to stand, the other wanted to lay down.  It all depends on the doe.  It wasn't long after the mucous, or "plug", appeared that the does each began to push.  If you observe the abdomen, you can see the entire belly raise with each contraction, usually resulting in a large bleat by the goat.

If everything happens as it's supposed to, both hooves will present first along with a little nose and a precious pink tongue.

My first kid presented nose first. which sent me into a small panic.  If I learned anything from that first baby, it was to immediately "break the bag"  and begin suctioning that little nose and mouth.  Suction, suction, wipe, and more suction.  Let the mom handle the pushing.  It is possible for the doe to deliver successfully this way.  If the doe seems to be in distress or is not progressing after 20 minutes or so, then you'll need to contact your vet or "go in" to bring the legs forward.

When that first baby finally came out, I spent so much time working on him that I didn't realize that 3 more pretty much "fell" out behind me.  I immediately went through and broke all of their bags and cleared their faces, held them upside down to drain any additional fluids and then laid them on puppy pads so they didn't get tarred and feathered in pine shavings.  I then moved them in front of momma so she could clean them.

After the Kidding Care for Kids

After the kidding (breaking the bags, clearing faces, suctioning, and allowing mom to clean them for a few minutes) I took each baby one by one and dipped their umbilical cord in iodine.  I tilted them back a little so to get the iodine right up to their belly.  A dear friend of mine showed me that it isn't necessary to tie them off.  Umbilical cords have very small veins in them and if you cut them (without tying them off properly) they could bleed.  She showed me that to shorten the umbilical cord you simply tear it, this way the veins retract on themselves thus creating a seal.

Nursing - Be sure to clear the teat of debris by squeezing out a little colostrum before the baby starts nursing.  Return the baby to mom and help guide them to the teat.  A few of my babies didn't want me forcing them so I just put them in the general area and they were able to sniff and bump around until the found the teat.  You may have to bend the teat toward their mouth for them to find it faster though.  Moms will naturally lick the rear end of their babies to stimulate the nursing instinct in the baby.

Placenta on feed bag, easy clean up.
After Kidding Care for Does

To make sure the doe is finished kidding, you can "bounce" her belly.  You stand behind the doe and reach around her belly with both arms and lift up a few times to feel for bones.  If there are no bones, she's finished.

At this time there will be discharge and a long string of mucous, just leave it.  Within an hour or so the placenta will emerge.  The doe may eat it or just leave it.  I had one do each.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with them eating it, it's gross, yes...however it's very natural and will not hurt them. Some say it provides the doe with a vitamin enriched meal that helps them heal faster.  I won't argue.

TIP: Old feed bags do work wonderfully for kidding.  If you cut them lengthwise, they cover a lot of ground.  You can lay them under your does rear end and it catches a lot of water and mucous, making clean up much easier.  

In the days to follow:

Make sure babies are nursing regularly.

Watch each one to make sure they're active and not hiding (inactivity and hiding can be signs there is something wrong with the kid.  If you notice either of these, please get help fast, babies will deteriorate rapidly if you do not intervene.

Does will get their first deworming dose approx. 2-3 days after kidding.  We used the Apple Flavor Ivermectin paste at 250 lb. dose.  You'll need to give a second dose 10 days later to catch the worms complete life cycle.

Temperature, temperature, temperature.
If you notice quiet or standoffish babies or momma, take their temperature (digital thermometer rectally with a little lubricating jelly works great).  Normal temperature is between 102-103 degrees.
I noticed raspy breathing in one of the babies and found her laying throughout the day when her brother was up and moving around.  I took her temperature and it was 105.  We started her on a 5 day treatment of antibiotics and she recovered quickly.

Baby poop can be sticky, make sure their behind doesn't get caked with poop preventing them from going.

I'm sure I'll tweak this post as we go, there's always something more to add!!

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Journey to Homeschooling

A few years ago God pressed upon my heart the importance of raising our children in the faith.  It was so immense that I couldn't say "no".  Some of the verses God kept popping into my head included:

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will."
- Romans 12:2

"Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever." - 1 John 2:15

You're probably wondering how this relates to homeschooling, right? Well, I was following the flow of life, doing what everybody else was doing when I began to notice parents competing with each other. Importance was placed on who had the better job, who had the smarter kids, who's kids were in the most sports or activities, who takes the most vacations, who had the nicer house, and so on.  Being humble didn't exist where I lived.  I realized that the material things of this world were consuming those around me.  

There it was.  It hit me like a ton of bricks that this world isn't the end all, be all.  This world is temporary and we should be living every second, the best we can, with our intent focused on our eternity...our Heavenly home.  

When this "realization" came, I retreated.  I didn't know what else to do.  Then my neighbor told me about a private school nearby.  I toured it, loved it and knew what needed to happen next.  I enrolled the kids and found a part time job to help pay for tuition.  Since I'm a convert, the goal was to learn more about the faith WITH my children, however, even a part time job can put a damper on things. The kids were learning and blossoming but I still felt a disconnect, I didn't like just shipping them off and picking them up 7 hours later.  

When I enrolled the kids in the private school, the secretary told me most families went to a particular parish in Ann Arbor.  We decided to see what it was like and ended up loving the parish and are now members.  Within a month, I met a homeschooling mother of 10 who told me about the homeschool program at the church.  Over the next two years, I had gotten to know more and more homeschooling families there, the community was supportive and vast.   I remember telling that particular mother of 10 at coffee and donuts how I actually envied her, and that I could NEVER homeschool!

God has a sense of humor.

Needless to say, this is the journey He led us on.  Two years at the private school was a stop along the path in order to get to our next station in life, homeschooling.  Without the private school, I wouldn't have met the homeschool community.  Where He leads me, I will follow.

I've spent the last few months researching the co-op at our parish and various Catholic curricula.  I'm still undecided.  Since the kids are 9 & 11, I feel pressured to get it right the first time around, there's not much room for error. 

More to come on our curriculum selection soon! 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Great Loss

On Tuesday, May 10 we lost our dear shepherd mix, Mable.  She was a month shy of 16.

My college internship was with the Michigan Humane Society, in the marketing department.  While there, I heard about the foster program and decided to volunteer and take in a foster dog.  My first assignment was Barnaby, he was a sweet beagle and was only with me for about 2 weeks.  My next assignment was Mable, a black shepherd mix, who was about 2 years old (no one knew for sure).

It was January 2002.  I'm still not sure how Mable ended up at the shelter, I think she was surrendered by her owner for one reason or another.  Mable was sick though.  She had kennel cough, worms, and frostbite.  When I opened the door to the quarantine area of the shelter she reared up on her hind legs and was waving at me with her two front paws.  She was excited and seemed pretty happy.  I'll admit though, driving home with her loose in my car made me nervous, afterall, I didn't know much about her.

She had her issues, like nipping at heels and fingers, and bolting out the door and down the street but we made do.  After about a month she had gotten better and it was time for us to return her to the shelter and she was ready to go up for adoption.  I designed a cute little flyer describing her in detail, her likes and dislikes.  We dropped her off at the shelter and they put her in a stall, as we walked away she reared up on her hind legs and waved to us with a big smile on her face...she didn't know what was happening and my heart broke into pieces.  In training, they warned us about getting attached.  There's a term, "foster flunky".  Within 24 hours, I had gone back to the shelter and adopted her.  I still feel guilty for letting her stay that one night in the shelter.

My wedding was 5 months later, so Mable has been with my husband and I from the start.  We worked hard with her, lots of training and over time she truly turned into one of the best dogs out there.

She stayed pretty healthy over the years.  At around 13, she lost her hearing but her eyesight made up for it.  We began seeing signs of degenerative myelopathy, which is a disease of the spinal cord and affects their hind legs.  She still got around, but if she stood in one place for any length of time her rear end would sink.  At 14 she ended up fighting off vestibular disease, which is the most cruel disease I've ever seen a dog go through.  The poor girl had severe vertigo for weeks, couldn't stand or walk, couldn't eat, and was just pitiful.  The vet said if we waited it out, she'd come back around and sure enough...she did.  She didn't come out of it 100% though and my husband and I swore that if it ever came on again we'd end her suffering.  

And that leads me to Tuesday, May 10.  That morning she was a little more unstable on her feet than other days, and she wouldn't eat.  I left for work and was nervous to what I might be coming home to, I knew the vestibular disease was flaring up again.  Sure enough, when I got home, poor Mable couldn't stand and her eyes were darting back and forth trying to focus and find balance.  I carried her outside to go to the bathroom and she fell multiple times.  She got sick and I called my husband to come home and we made the decision to take her in that evening. 

I thank God that the decision was so easy for us.  I'm thankful I had no choice in this.  We all surrounded her and loved on her until she left us.  She was at rest and we will forever cherish our memories of her.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Tappin' Trees

Maple syrup season is upon us and everything is in full swing!  We were a bit late getting this show on the road but we managed to get the trees tapped just in time.

This is our first year tapping trees and we've learned A LOT!  First and foremost, we need to do a better job of identifying our sugar maple trees this summer.  We moved in only 9 months ago and we weren't very observant as to what trees are where so this time around we'll make sure to keep a better record or journal of where they all are.

Bear ordered a spile and tubing kit from Amazon.

Lesson #1, use longer tubing if that's the route you're going.  These tubes are too short so it limits how high we can go on the tree if the bucket is on the ground.

Bear also ordered 1 gallon buckets and cut a small hole in the lid to accommodate the tubing.

Lesson #2, use larger buckets.  When that sap gets flowing, this lil' bucket will fill up within hours.  
And finally, Lesson #3.....have plenty of storage and a plan.  We filled up all of our buckets and reserve storage faster than anticipated.  We were scrambling to boil it all down and make room for the buckets that were filling up in the meantime.  

In order to spare my kitchen from the steam, Bear rigged his grill to accommodate a large pot. He set bricks on the top of the grill and put the pot on top of the bricks so he could feed sticks in to the fire between the bricks and keep the syrup boiling.  It was tedious, and next year we plan to build a rocket stove to spare his grill.  In the meantime, I'd boil down a smaller pot each night in the kitchen just to keep up with production. 
Overall, we've loved the experience and plan to make this a tradition.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Wooden Clothesline

Now that we officially don't have neighbors, I was biting at the bits to have my very own clothesline.  We talked about metal posts versus wood, mounted retractable versus umbrella style, you name it!  In the end, we really liked the look of the wood and it was sturdy as all get out, at least this video by Jon Peters made it look pretty impressive.  I stumbled on the video (found at the very bottom of this post), which provides a fantastic tutorial on how to build your own clothesline.  We followed the directions and here's the outcome....

I couldn't wait to try it out, this photo was taken before I even put the stain on!  Here's a photo with the stain, proudly displaying the clothespin apron I threw together.  I wish I could say I had a pattern for you on this apron, but I don't.  I totally winged it.  (winged, wung?  whatever, you get it)

The clothesline has become a place where the kids know they can find me and have quiet one on one talks. It's become our bonding place where the chickens come watch the action and the dog lays in the shade keeping me company.  It's everything I imagined it to be.  Oh, and it dries our laundry for free, delivering a crisp, fresh smelling product every time without fail!

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