Thursday, January 22, 2015

Patriotic Homestead Week - How the Military has Prepared Me for the Homestead

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My daughter is following her parent's footsteps by joining the Air Force and is in basic training as I write.  Of course, this stirs up some emotions in me, some good, some not so good.  Although my husband and I were active duty, she will be in the reserves, but basic training is the same.  So, I know what she is going through right now.

It ain't pretty.  

I'm feeling for her, I miss her and it's killing me to not be able to contact her.  And, it brings back those old feelings I had when I was in basic.  But it also has made me look back at all of the good it did me.

To be quite honest, I don't know if I would've returned to my roots on the farm if it hadn't been for the military.  I went to college for two years and realized it wasn't for me at the time.  Since my dad was in the Air Force, I decided to give it a try.  No one pushed me to join, I was ready.  Ready to take on a challenge that I just might be good at.  

Here is what it got me:

1.  A new appreciation for my family and living on a small farm all my life. I realized how foreign farm life is to some, which made me miss it even more.

2. Through difficult trials in the military, I had to grow up and learn to find my worth in Christ alone, not in man or in what I do(still a working progress).  I learned to stay the course, to never give up. 

3.  My work ethic became stronger and my job as a medic gave me challenging opportunities.

4.  I realized that a part of who I am is someone who likes to take physical challenges.  I ran the Air Force full marathon, loved the yearly Combat Medical Readiness Training and played basketball on the base teams and three on three tournaments.

5.  I learned to respect authority, but I also learned to be courageous and speak up when there is an injustice.  I actually got a colonel fired, long story.

6.  I have a new-found appreciation for veterans and love to hear their experiences, especially WWII veterans and older generations.

You might be wondering how all of this has helped prepare me for life on a farm.  I lived on a small farm all of my life until I joined the Air Force, so the seed was planted before I left.  Who knows what would've happened if I got my degree.  I could've been a career woman, living in the city or a neighborhood with a huge house and tiny yard.

But here I am.  

Let's take a look at that list again in order, but this time, let's look at it in regards to how it prepared me for the homestead:

1.  I love this farm and truly appreciate it!  I am so thankful my dad planted a seed in me to raise our own meat and grow a big garden, but I am also thankful that being in the Air Force made me realize how truly special this life is.

2.  There are many trials on the homestead.  By going through some tough times in the military, I know God has strengthened me to be able to tackle the hard times and struggles here on the farm.  I have been taught perseverance. 

3.  Better work ethic is a must on the homestead.  No laziness here!  Plus, being a medic and EMT in the military has helped in many ways with animal care.

4.  I thrive on physical challenges at times.  If I get my mind geared up for a challenge on the homestead, boy, look out because there is no stopping me!

5.  I respect the government, but I also know that they can overreach into our rights as farmers and homesteaders.  The military has taught me to be brave.  I have stood up to that overreach and will do so again if the opportunity arises.

6.  I love and respect the older generation.  Many have helped keep us free and they have so much wisdom.  Because of my new-found appreciation of this older generation since being in the military, I have learned a good bit from old folks about simple living and homesteading.

When I sing the national anthem, I can't help but get a lump in my throat.  Sometimes I feel the same way when I look at our farm.  I am free, and I'd like to keep it that way.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Patriotic Homestead Week - Overcoming the Negative Perception of Women in the Military

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For those that follow me on Facebook, you might have seen that my daughter just left for Air Force basic training.

For those that have followed this blog for awhile, you might remember I wrote a post 
called, I am a Veteran.  In that post, I was trying to explain my way out of feeling embarrassed at times because as a female, it is sometimes looked down upon by some ultra-conservative groups.

Yes, several years ago, I used to be embarrassed around certain people because I was in the Air Force for eight years.  Why?  

Because as homeschoolers, we can sometimes get caught up in the legalities of religion.

Let me explain.

We used to be very conservative Christians(and still are to a point), but to some, we were not conservative enough.  We used to listen to Doug Phillips and his ministry, Vision Forum, as did a lot of other homeschoolers.  Talk about conservative!  Yes, they were.  They were what everyone thought the homeschool family should look like and boy, did they play their part.  The thought of ever letting their daughters go away to college was not in their vocabulary.  And women in the military?  No way!

So, when Doug Phillips started sharing his negative opinion on women in the military, I felt as if I would never measure up to his standards and everyone else who followed is teachings.  Something that I was proud of became something I was kind of ashamed of. I worked so hard, spent eight years of my life, became a better person and more mature and met my wonderful husband in the military.  I became a better person in Christ.

But, all of that was thrown away.  I kept it to myself for the most part. Pretty silly, I know.  I was so caught up in trying to be conservative enough and be like other Vision Forum families that I was trying to be someone that God didn't intend for me to be.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't discredit everything that Vision Forum stood for.  They did make some good points on raising children, but after a few years, there was something about their leader that did not sit well with me.  I believe God had lifted the blinders from my eyes.  Although my husband and I did not discuss it too much, he would eventually become somewhat repulsed when he saw him.  And as some of you know, it was for good reason.  I would rather not share that reason, but feel free to do some research on the internet and I'm sure you will figure it out.

And so, even when he was still popular, we steered away from him and his ministry.  That is when I began to let God be my Counselor, my Potter.  And He had a lot of work to do!  Replacing lies with biblical truths, not some man-made opinion.  Not only was that freeing, but I wasn't so quick to think negatively about other families who didn't think exactly like you-know-who.  I was just as guilty with that self-righteousness junk! 

And then there is the military.  I used to tell others that I would never let my daughters join.  Because, you know, it was talked down upon and plus when my oldest daughter was still young, I just couldn't even imagine allowing her to go through basic training and beyond!

I have learned(most of the time) to never say never.

My daughter(19) told me last year that she wanted to join the Air Force just like her dad and I every since she was 12.  But, she never told me because she knew I'd say no.  She was right.  But, something has changed in me.  Although I put my foot down on active duty and choosing a highly deployed job, I was okay with her serving in the military, I was actually pleased that she wanted to join and serve our country.  Who would have thought?  
But, what would my husband say about all of this?

Surprisingly enough, he told me he would like all of our children to serve this country in some way or another.  Funny how God changes us and makes us uniquely His!

So now, I will gladly stand with my father and husband when veterans are being recognized.

I will gladly share my experiences that helped shape me into who I am.

And I will gladly say to the naysayers, "God made us all
uniquely His.  Isn't that awesome?"

I will gladly see my daughter graduate from basic training in less than two months!

And I will gladly remember that God has made us all differently, with different abilities, talents, gifts, non-biblical convictions, etc.  It's fascinating to see how He is molding others differently than me.  Yet, we have Christ as our common ground.

And that is enough.

P.S. I must say that I do not agree with women in combat.  But, that's another story!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Barn Transformation - Utilizing What We Have w/out Spending a Dime

You might have read one of my previous posts that talked about my to-do list over Christmas break.  I included a planner that can also be used as an overall winter homestead planner.  Our first big project was a partial barn transformation.

It was originally supposed to be a barn cleaning, manure scooping day, then we were going to build horse stalls to replace the old ones.  We had two makeshift stalls made out of corral panels for our two Haflingers, but after five years of spending winters in their stalls(with outside time too), they got a little too cantankerous and beat up some of those panels beyond repair.

So, the only shelter for the horses this winter would have been shared with the goats. Yeah, not a good idea.  Poor goats would probably starve and get kicked out of the barn, literally.  Needless to say this project was top priority.

Here is a before pic:

We have never been successful at growing a dollar tree out back, so we couldn't put any money into this big project, but my son and I came up with an idea that would require no purchases and we could actually use what we already had, cattle panels and scrap wood.

Being creative with what we have is quite rewarding!

Instead of making more horse stalls, we decided to extend the goat area under the loft, which was where the horse stalls were and put a goat door(small framed out doorway that only goats could get through).  That way, the horses could have shelter where the goats were originally, and the goats could have their own shelter separate from the horses.

For starters and six truckloads of multi-species manure later, yes, I said six and no we did not have a working tractor with a frontloader and no we don't own a manure spreader(wishlist), we got the barn scooped out.  That took two days.

Don't pay too much attention to the frizzy, manure-sprinkled hair.

My husband and son tightened the fence that divided horses from goats and framed out a goat door into the new area for goats only.  They used a piece of scrap wood for the top frame, the left side is a beam supporting the loft and the right side is a leftover corner post.

We had some corral panels that didn't get too beat up so we were going to use those for the extended goat area, but we thought using leftover cattle panels would be more feasible.  Little baby goats could escape the corral panels because of the big gaps.  Plus, cattle panels would look better in our opinion.  We attached the cattle panels to the loft beams with u-nails and we quickly had a new area for the goats.

The platform in the background is made from a metal frame that a go-cart came in years ago.  We put a scrap piece of treated wood on top to make a little platform for the goats to play on.

The above picture is shown with the loft above.  We put an old swimming pool ladder over the cattle panels so that we don't have to open up the panels as much(one side of a panel is chained to the beam for access inside).  We aren't milking right now, but the old milk stand sits right outside the goat pen for easy access and fresh air(right by the big door).

If I had a before picture, you would be quite amazed!

Although we did make past purchases of corral panels and cattle panels, we were able to recycle them and use them for this big project.  We have transformed our barn without spending a dime!  It was hard work and we threw away a lot of junk that has accumulated over the years, cleared out and organized, raked old hay and trash from the floor and then blew dust from our noses for a few days after that!

We originally thought we would have to put a good bit of money into this project, but as we began to think outside the box, we saw things a little differently.  Granted, we don't have expensive top-notch stalls, but really, who needs them?  

Many of us keep things that might be of good use to the farm, and while most of the time they just end up collecting dust and chicken poo, sometimes there is a gem that can really be put to good use!

Monday, January 12, 2015

What is a Chicken Tractor and Why Do We Use It?

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Living on a farm for 11 years, I sometimes forget that some don't know what I'm talking about when I mention a chicken tractor.  So, here it goes.

A chicken tractor is basically a small, movable chicken coop.  Some are bigger with floors and are put on trailers that are pulled by tractors. The chickens are let out to forage as seen in this picture below.

Most chicken tractors are small coops with no floor.  They are light enough to move around by one person.  There are so many chicken tractor plans that are simple and cheap to build.  I encourage you to look at Pinterest and type in 'chicken tractor' and you will see so many ideas.

So why do we use a chicken tractor?  Two reasons, basically.

1.  To keep our meat chickens contained, yet able to forage on fresh grass and weeds which makes for a healthier bird to eat.

2.  To fertilize the pasture, garden or wherever nutrients is needed.

I wish I had taken pictures of where our chicken tractor was after a month or so of moving the chickens around.  We have sandy soil and could actually see a 10 foot wide strip of greener, plusher grass wherever that tractor went.  Chicken manure is one of the best manures to use as fertilizer.  It is normally higher in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium than cow, horse or pig manure.  Take a look at this chart below from Agrarian Analysis.

Not only do we use a chicken tractor for meat chickens, we also put old hens in there and utilize their manure.  They don't lay and sometimes we don't have time to butcher them, so at least they are put to good use.  We usually use old hens in the fall and even mild winters to move around the dormant garden or pasture that is not in use.

Instead of buying fertilizer, we use what we have and it works better!  My husband and son just built this chicken tractor pictured below.  They used 2x2s, some strong chicken wire that was given to us by someone my husband works with, and the heavy duty siding was something he picked up from work.

Yes, that is a turkey wanting in the tractor.

No, those aren't stuffed animal puppies in the background, they are real fluffballs.

Because this tractor has many open sides, we will partially cover it with heavy duty tarp to keep the chickens warmer.

Our old chicken tractor has been around for a few years and has taken quite a beating, thus the need for a new one.  To build, it costs around $40, mostly from the wood which costs $38.  Compare that along with the chicken feed expenses(depending on how many chickens are in the tractor) to the cost of buying fertilizer for a big garden or pasture and you will more than likely come out on top.  Plus, using what we have to sustain our farm is much more rewarding!

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