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.

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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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Making Almond Milk and Almond Meal Off-Grid

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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.

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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

Unplugging, a Preface

I am sitting next to my wood stove, in a wooden Adirondack chair, listening to my children play in an attached greenhouse.  Our cabin is quite large (just over 2000 sq ft) yet very rustic.  This stove is the only source of heat right now, and I must admit it’s not quite enough when the temperatures dip.  Right now, though, as the sun warms the forest outside, it is perfect.

Our cabin sits back from the road, hidden, on 80 acres of creek-riddled forest.  The largest creek comes in somewhere at the top of our property–I haven’t determined its source yet, but I think it burbles up from the ground and is fed with melting snow–and tumbles down in a wild, graceful, gently-sloping series of waterfalls and streams.  In places, it flows underneath boulders and trickles out from beneath trees.  It has carved little caves out of rock, caves that now contain the last bits of ice and snow, and in one place, a horizontal crevice full of icicles.  I explored this with my 6-year-old Lion Cub the other day, and I know that the next time we explore, it will be familiar yet slightly changed.

The tumbling creek flattens out to a marshy field on one side of a raise backwoods road that used to be a railroad track.  In one spot, it has eroded the road, and the property’s previous owners have filled in the missing road with a pile of logs in the form of a rudimentary bridge.  The water flows underneath these logs and keeps going on the other side of the road into some more swampy land which we have yet to explore.  Rumor has it that the lower 40 acres are swamp now but will dry up in the summer.  The wetlands area continues beyond our land until it hits the Sturgeon River.  I dream of when we are ready to have horses here so I can explore my favorite way–on horseback–and ride all the way down to the river.

Speaking of horses, from our large kitchen windows off to the right of where I sit, I can see where they will be pastured.  If I were to stand up, I could see our large fenced-in garden area and our small but sturdy barn.  The fences all need work, but the barn is in good, strong condition, albeit somewhat unfinished.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, and only a fraction of that is behind us.  I look forward to sharing our homesteading journey with you.  But to do that, I think I may  first have to answer the question everyone asks in one form or another: how did you end up in the UP?  (For those of you not from the Midwest, the UP is Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.)  So consider this post the preface to the series where I somehow explain the answer to that question.  Until next time…

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