Natural Tick Control: Guinea Fowl

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As soon as the weather warmed up for our first spring here at Red Tree Ranch, we quickly realized we had a problem.  A big problem.  An infestation.  Apparently our property was “Tick-tropolis,” as my Lion Cub told me.

While we’ve been using some UN-natural insect and tick repellent (I bought a 12-pack of this), we are also doing some things to reduce the tick population naturally.  One tick-reducing measure is doing some weed-wacking near the house and frequently-used paths.  We have also been putting food grade diatomaceous earth in places like under the dog house (safe for people and pets, but kills all sorts of creepy-crawlies, not just ticks).
Something with long-term payoff is introducing these little guys to our land:

103 107 brand new guinea keets

047A few days later…

011And a few more days.

They are even bigger now, but I didn’t take a pic today.  We got them 10 days ago and I think they may have tripled in size!  Baby guineas are called keets, and they make some interesting chirps.  Sometimes they sound like crickets, frogs, or aliens (because I know what aliens sound like, right?).  We have tried handling them frequently so they will be tame, but it doesn’t seem to be working.  As time goes on, they seem to trust us less.  This wary nature could be a benefit, as they are supposed to make excellent “watch-birds” and will raise a ruckus when new people or creatures find their way onto our property.  I even read about a flock of guineas chasing off a coyote!  As long as I can convince them to return to their roost every night to lock them up, they should be a great benefit to our homestead.  While turkeys and chickens are supposed to be good at eating ticks, guineas are reputed to be the best for tick control.  We shall see!

We have 15 of them.  My only prior experience with raising poultry was with turkeys one year at summer camp.  We started with 12 or 15, and if I recall correctly, only about 5 or 6 made it to adulthood.  I knew I could do better than that, but I was expecting at least a couple losses.  Yet so far, all my guineas look healthy and strong.  They truly are strange creatures though.  Yesterday I tried to put a paper towel under their feeder so that when they spill their feed, they might be able to see it better on the floor.  However, they spent about 10 or 15 minutes huddled at one end of the cage, cheeping fearfully and staring at the white paper towel of doom.  I gave up and took the towel out, afraid it was going to stress them too much.

Anyways, aside from eating ticks, the guineas will also provide us with meat, eggs, and possibly even a little income should we choose to choose to sell or barter any of the above OR some of their babies.  Heck, if we have a need for tick-eating birds, I imagine we aren’t the only ones in our neck of the woods!

I’ll keep you posted as they grow, and believe me I will update you on their efficiency as tick eating monsters.  They do show some promise already–I found a tick crawling on one of my kiddos and one of the guineas ate it right off my hand.  However, the next time I tried that, they wouldn’t eat it.  They used to eat their feed out of our hands too though, and they won’t anymore.  I think they are just too scared of us now–that wild bird instinct is just too strong in them!

Until next time….

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Homestead Happiness

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The other day, I planted potatoes and garlic. The kids were not happy, complained about everything, did not want to help, and ended up going in the house to leave me alone with my spade and seed potatoes.


Today, they came out saying, “We are in the garden with mommy!”  and “This dirt is so cool!”  I believe the difference in attitude had a lot to do with the weather.  When I was planting potatoes, it was just hot.  Today, it was kind of hot, but every time it started to get uncomfortable, clouds would pass and the breeze would kick up and it would be just enough to say, “Ahhhhh!  What a wonderful day.”  I missed this kind of summer weather when we lived in California.  Summer without rain or clouds is just punishing, isn’t it?

So there I was in the garden, planting peas with the help of my Lion Cub and Blue Dragon, and they said, “Look!  There’s Daddy!”  And there was my husband coming out of the house, wearing Little Fox on his back in my Boba Baby Carrier, holding Kangaroo’s hand, and setting down our long long driveway to check the mail.  I could have cried with happiness right there, and not just for all the usual reasons a  babywearing mom might have for tearing up at the sight of her husband wearing the baby.  I haven’t talked about his accident on my blog yet, but I’ll get to that in my “Unplugging” series about the long road we took to getting here.  Not only is it a miracle he is alive to wear the baby (the 25+ lb toddler, I should say–not just a little baby!), but it wasn’t too long ago that I thought he would never be able to safely carry a baby on his back due to his injuries leaving him off-balance.  But when he came back from the mailbox and I was done planting peas with the older kids, we roamed about the garden and barn, comparing notes on which plants we had identified so far and imagining the animals we have yet to acquire.

Is this where I wake up to find it is all a dream?  Oh wait, there is a giant mosquito bite on top of my head–this is reality.  It’s a lovely one right now (in spite of the mosquitoes), and I’m going to cling to that  as long as I can.


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“How to Make Money Homesteading,” a Book Review

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I don’t even remember buying How to Make Money Homesteading: So You Can Enjoy a Secure, Self-Sufficient Life, but I opened the Kindle app on my Nook (Ha!) and it was there. I think I bought it on a whim when another blogger reviewed it. I wish I could give them credit and thank them because I found it to be a load of inspiration!

Tim Young begins his book with a quote from Seth Godin:

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”

Young then elaborates on what and how that life could be in the eyes of a homesteader. Of course there is no magical formula for how to make a living homesteading, but Young gives numerous ideas and profiles 18 homesteaders from a variety of locations, occupations, and sizes of properties, from less than one acre on up. If you are at all interested in self-sufficient living, this book will get your creative juices flowing on how to accomplish the next step in your homestead journey, whether it is anything as small as container gardening on an apartment balcony or as large as building your own herd of cattle. I do also appreciate his touch of realism and explanation of common blunders and failed homesteading scenarios.

I’ve been reading it in the quiet time I get after everyone else is asleep and the sun is setting over our little homestead. The garden is waiting for seeds, and this year, some seedlings I will get from a store.  Next year, we will be able to start our own tomatoes, peppers, and whatever else needs to be started indoors (eggplant?  I hardly know.  I have to admit Mr. Wrangler is the better gardener.)  I have a brooder box, waiting for my guinea fowl keets and heritage turkey poults I ordered.  We have plans in the works for our coops (yep, the clock is ticking on that one).  Our homestead is in its infancy.  But having read some of the profiles in the book, and especially about their early days, my confidence is bolstered that these plans will grow into something wonderful.


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Unplugging, Part 3

I believe I left you at the time of my college graduation and first “real” job.  I will spare you all the details, but just to give you an idea of my mindset, I admit there was a scene involving me driving my red pickup truck through a barren desert wasteland somewhere in Southern California on the way to my new life, with me singing along to the Dixie Chick’s “Wide Open Spaces” and bawling my eyes out.

I sweated my way through my first California summer.  The schedule was grueling. Rewarding, but grueling. Between caring for the horses, teaching lessons doing devotionals with staff and with the campers, hiking back and forth up a steep hill from the dining hall to the barn, campfires–and did I mention somehow I ended up leading worship with my guitar for the campers evening chapel time?–I only had one day off a week (sort of, if it wasn’t my turn to feed the horses) and a couple hours to spare in the afternoons.  By the end of the summer, I was spending those afternoon breaks with soon-to-be Mr. Wrangler, taking illegal trail rides into the state park land that bordered the camp property.  Shhhhh don’t tell the park rangers!  It was a wonderful way to get to know each other, though–plenty of time to talk yet with the safe buffer of the horses to fill any awkward gaps.  Here’s a pic Mr. Wrangler snapped of me on one of our date rides.

peter and I

By the time Mr. Wrangler had done his job wooing me and we were planning our life together, I practically cried with joy when he found a job as a farrier’s apprentice in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  He was excited to try living someplace new, and I was thrilled to be so near Silver Birch Ranch and within a few hours of all my friends and family in Illinois.  True to my friend’s prediction, we were married in less than a year after my college graduation.  We spent our first year and a half of our marriage in America’s Dairlyand, but Mr. Wrangler was growing dissatisfied with his job (for a very good reason, too–I’ll get to that soon).  One day he said, “Why don’t you see if you can get a horse job in Montana or something?”  I laughed.  I knew from experience how hard it was to find the “perfect” horse job, but at the time I was just working at a temp agency and teaching a few riding lessons on the side.  I did, for the very first time in my life, have my own horse!

dewey side shotme and deweydewey close up

Wasn’t he a cutie?

However, I had bought him with the intention of training and selling him.  Really, there wasn’t anything solid tying us down in Green Bay, as much as I liked it there.

Thinking I was merely humoring Mr. Wrangler,  I hopped online to an equine job staffing board and found a listing for a job teaching horsemanship at a girls boarding school–in Montana.  I sent in my resume, had a phone interview, and before I knew it I was on a plane headed for a real interview.  I stayed in Missoula the first night there and was absolutely enchanted by it, but the real treat came the next day as I drove my tiny little rental car north into the Seeley-Swan Valley.  Snow-capped mountains, crystal lakes, majestic pines, wildlife galore–June in northwest Montana is simply breathtaking.  I saw moose and bear just driving to the school for the interview–which I nailed.  Obviously.  I was able to spend a few extra days exploring the area and hiking.  I saw waterfalls and a secluded, appropriately-named Crystal Lake in the Mission Mountain Wilderness.  Every night when I called Mr. Wrangler, I told him, “I can’t wait for you to see this.  You aren’t going to believe how beautiful it is here.  You’re going to love it.”

The wilderness was calling us!

IMG_0047 IMG_0049

Meet the Dogs

First, I need to introduce Sandi to you.  She is 3/4 Queensland Heeler and 1/4 Husky.  She is 12 years old and the smartest dog I’ve ever met.  She has a lot of old dog problems, but we love her.


Yesterday, we acquired the first of many animals to come to our homestead.  Meet Vemla (top) and Daphne (bottom).

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They are 6 weeks of Queensland Heeler adorableness.

Someday they will be watchdogs and be a part of a pack to chase critters away from our house and barn. But for now, can we say, “Awwwwww”?


Harvesting Sunshine

Yesterday we had snow on the ground in the morning.  Today it was warm and sunny.  Ok then.

Here’s the view of our garden area, which soon will be tilled.  (I hope.)  That’s the barn in the background.


Today, the kids and I gathered (more) dandelions to make syrup.  This was the result of our picking:

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Based on what I’ve read from various recipes, all you have to do to make dandelion syrup is pick a gazillion dandelions, rip the petals off, and cover them in water.  Boil from anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, depending on what recipe you read.  Then allow to steep overnight.  That’s what’s going on right now.

In the morning, I will strain the liquid and measure it.  Then I will boil it with equal parts sugar until it is completely dissolved and, hopefully, thickened.  That’s about it!  Some recipes tell you to add lemon juice or spices, but that doesn’t seem to be required.  This needs to be kept in the fridge for sure.  I’ll tell you how it turns out–if it’s half as good as the dandelion jelly I still need to tell you about, it will be a success.  The jelly is like eating sunshine.

Next up is our mint/mullein scalp tea for my daughter.  Last week, I made mullein tea for my daughter’s itchy scalp, and IT HELPED.  I can’t tell you how many remedies we’ve tried for her itchy head, but the mullein tea worked.  I just poured it on after washing her hair.  Anyway, mint is also good for scalp ailments, and she asked if she could try mint tea instead since we have an abundance of mint growing near our house.  I said, why not use both?

Here are her herbs waiting for the tea pot to boil.


And here’s mullein growing wild, just for reference.  Please note that I am NOT an herbalist or expert and I’m just learning all of this.  So don’t take my word for it.  Do some of your own research or ask a real expert before being sure you have identified a plant.


Last, but definitely not least, we have a mystery plant growing in our garden!  I was hoping it was parsnip.  Nope, not parsnip. Rutabaga?  Nope.  (Thank goodness. Then I would feel compelled to actually prepare it.)  So, what is it?  My next guess is an overgrown radish.  What do you think this is?

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I am really hoping it is something edible, since there are a lot of them growing.

Making Almond Milk and Almond Meal Off-Grid


Today I’m going to take a quick break from my “Unplugging” series to show you one of my little projects I managed to accomplish in one of our first couple weeks here.  First, I made almond milk according to my usual recipe:

Soak 1 cup raw almonds over night.

Blend with 4 cups water in Blendtec (this had to be done while we had the generator running–I did not run the generator just to blend my almond milk.  So I don’t think I get off-gridding points for this.)

Drain the “milk” through a cloth and save the leftover meal to dry.

Add a pinch of salt and vanilla powder, mix, and refrigerate.  Or, in my case, put the pitcher in the 37-degree basement since our fridge is not up and running.

Now, back in my “old life,” I would have put a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet, spread the wet almond meal on it, and stuck it in the oven on low.  But our oven was not hooked up yet.

I briefly considered just throwing out the almond meal, but that would never do!  I didn’t know where the parchment was, but I did have a baking pan.


So I left it on the top of the wood stove to dry.  It took quite awhile, but it was easy.  Maybe I don’t get homesteading credit for the almond MILK, but how much more homesteady can you get than cooking on a wood stove?  I folded the cloth over the meal to keep out dust, bugs, flying dog hair, etc.  I opened it up every now and then to stir the meal and break up clumps.  When it was dry, I put it in a mason jar to store.  It made a tasty addition to our pancakes a few days later.  I just substituted the almond meal for a portion of the flour, and it gave it a nice, nutty flavor.

In case you were wondering about that big pot there on the stove, that was to heat up water for baths and washing dishes.  I don’t remember if we had the plumbing working yet at this point, but if we did, there was no hot water yet.  I will tell you the entire saga of our plumbing another day–maybe I will wait until it’s more or less done… and maybe not.  I’ll surprise you.

Until next time…

—Wrangler Mama

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