So far since we’ve been here we’ve had chickens galore, pigs, bunnies, a cow, cats, and goats.  We’d like to have more, but our resident coyotes seem determined to dig holes under my new, very expensive deer fence and Mr. Brown is completely oblivious to them.  So… looking for a llama or a mini-donkey.  Why is the answer to an animal problem always another animal?  I suppose that’s how God designed it – natural balance, food chain and all that right? 

Honestly we’ve been lucky, we’ve only lost one chicken and one goat to predators.  Many chickens and both pigs made it to the freezer and our chickens free range about 90% of the time. 

Just finished our annual batch of broilers.  I keep trying different breeds looking for something that free ranges well, but so far they all grow so much slower I’m probably going to go back to straight up Cornish rock to keep from eating pubescent roosters.   Or like today, I decided not to slaughter the rest of my new breed because at 4 months the first hen had almost full sized yolks inside.  Maybe the mix of those and the Maran will make decent fryers at 3-months?

In other news, we added two cute chicks (hopefully hens) to our flock.  Maven has been broody at least a year of the two we’ve had her I swear.  So I finally gave in and let her have two.  They hatched on 4th of July so maybe we’ll name them something to do with that.  I’d let more hatch but I don’t want another Roo.  Our first one (Ezekiel) was downright mean… Blue Lazarus who replaced him is a saint.  You can almost pick him up. 

We also rescued three cute little barn kitties; “Cornelius”, “Serious” and “Neville” (catching the theme yet?).  Shortly after, Serious became “Lucky”, and our totally awesome neighbors have adopted and turned him into just that. He will be a house cat now and their kids are amazing with him.  Ours won’t be let out until they’re full grown and neutered just in case the coyotes get greedy.  They are SOOO sweet.  I’ve never had nice cats, so it’s hard to not feel like I have Dr. Doolittle powers when these cuddle on me.  

One feather left…
Stars & Stripes? Hard to tell but they’re grey and tan… so I know now it must be my tan Auracana who lays blue eggs!
Neville & Serious

So we had these pigs…  two sweet American Guinea Hogs who wandered onto a friend’s property.  Someday we’d planned to grow our own pork, so we put up a pen and started feeding…and feeding…. and feeding.  The butcher I originally asked about this breed told me to get rid of them!   Research told me they’re foragers and best to grow them slow – unfortunately we didn’t have a fence so they couldn’t graze.  We got creative, and apparently we did something right because the gal I bought Mr. Brown from (yes, the steer is officially named) said they did Guinea Hogs and got almost NO meat.  13 months later, my freezer is stocked with almost 200-lb of teeny but yummy pork chops, savory sausage, and the best bacon ever (thank-you T-Bones!).   Even with free piglets, borderline OCD scrap-saving, trays upon trays of sprouted yellow field peas, and minimal commercial feed the pork cost around $3 a pound.  Hmmm… pork is pretty cheap when it’s on sale; not really feeling really frugal with that price.  Luckily I saved the lard and there was a LOT of LARD.  The belly fat has made EXCELLENT cooking lard (subbed for Crisco).  But how to use the rest?  SOAP, of course!

100% amateur, I scoured the internet for recipes (my Pinterest Soap board is sooo full).  Bramble Berry proved a great resource, so I got their book.  I ordered a lot of my supplies (cheaper) on Amazon.  I’ve linked/indicated in parenthesis where I found the cheapest price in my lists below.  On Amazon I tried to link to the most cost effective option, but just in case, use Honey to check you’re getting the best deal (I love this app, saves me loads). 

The first soap-making attempt adventure was a exfoliating orange body soap (I’m addicted to citrus scents).   Here’s how it went:

Ingredients

Tools

 

First I crock-potted the lard and strained it.  This was the longest step but it made enough lard for about 3-4 batches of soap. I used a coffee grinder to turn the dried mandarin peels into powder for exfoliation or what I prefer to call “scrubbiness”.

I used the recipe calculator on Bramble Berry because I couldn’t find any recipes I liked with the ingredients I had (I’ve since discovered SoapCalc which I like better –  it gives me more of the geeky numbers for my inner nerd).  Most soap bloggers it seems don’t use lard or tallow, but there are a few who swear by it (read ‘The Chemistry of Soaps and Why it Matters‘ and ‘Why I Use Lard or Tallow in my Soaps and Why Yous Should Too‘).  I also couldn’t find any recipes that used as much lard as I wanted to, and because it’s the **free** ingredient I felt it was worth trying to bump it up in my own recipe.  

We made this a homeschool science lesson for the day, and boy we learned a lot (er, is it at trace now?).  The exothermic reaction of the lye in the water was impressive and I think the kiddo enjoyed the gloves and mask as much as anything else. 

My ultimate goal now is to see if I can replace all my shower products with my own lard-based ones.  Since then we’ve made poison oak (Jewelweed & Oatmeal) soap, a facial bar (Charcoal w/Matcha, Lavender & Turmeric), a bug repellent balm (Citronella & Tea Tree), a shampoo bar (Rosemary Mint w/Aloe) and cold hot processed shaving pucks (Strawberry Limeade for the gals and Coconut & Cedarwood for the guys). 

Check out the full list of what we have available on our Soaps & Salves page.

 

Results

The orange bar smells great and works better.  Lots of lather, and I feel clean.  The orange peel is a  bit too “scrubby” for me, but I think I can grind it into a finer powder next time.  I do think the actual orange peel keeps the scent strong.

I’ve used the poison oak soap but it was so long after I started seeing the rash it didn’t make much difference (the point of the active ingredient is to remove the urushiol oil and it was too late).  The tea tree did feel super soothing on the rash though.  I think a tea-tree aloe soap for sunburns would feel amazing. 

I feel like the charcoal bar is FANTASTIC even if it is a bit ugly.  I’d like to think it’s my recipe but it’s probably because I don’t use fancy facial products and have never used charcoal soap before.  Anyhow, my face feels so clean and skin so soft when I’m done!  I’m sharing some around with friends to see if the results are universal.  

Next we’ll make some more scented body soaps because, well, I kinda went crazy at Bramble Berry on fragrance & essential oils (don’t tell TM). 

 

Cost

Okay, so I want to sell these on the farm, but I also want to encourage other homesteaders/DIY’ers so I’m gonna be transparent about what things cost.  I crunched all the numbers, and was pleasantly surprised that even with some of the fancy essential oils I bought most of the bars are under $1 to make.  I’d be happy to share my spreadsheet (I’m an excel nut) if you want to customize it for your own use – just ask me in the comments.  Now you do have to wait 30-days to use the cold press soaps, and spend the time getting ingredients, and making them (and fixing them in some cases).  If that’s not your bag; buy some of mine and help turn a homesteader into a full-time farmer so you can have fresh produce and handmade products in your neighborhood 😉

 

Lessons learned

So far (not too much giggling please if you’re a seasoned “soaper”, some of these prove I didn’t retain what I read in the book very well):

  • Splurge on the IR gun – washing multiple thermometers and finding places to set them down sucks
  • Cold process means NOT HOT – for some reason I thought temps for combining the liquids was about 30 degrees higher than it should be.  The first batch turned out fine, but as soon as we got creative we had all kinds of issues (no volcanoes, thank goodness)
  • No alcohol based extracts (duh, this was totally in the book)
  • When you use half a recipe – don’t do it in your head! 
  • The blogs were right – beeswax doesn’t ever really come off…anything
  • Tea tree overpowers most other scents
  • A rectangular silicon mold without a wood frame will bow – so get a wood frame unless you want trapezoidal vs. rectangular bars
  • Make sure your crock pot is big enough to salvage your entire batch if your cold process accelerates too fast!

If you make soap or are interested in trying some of our soap in your shower, comment below!  I definitely need ideas for my next batches!

Disclaimer: Some links above may be affiliates (where I get a fee for referring you as a customer)…one more way to grow the farm biz and reduce the day job!

 

Greenhouse frame Up!

It’s July here and HOT!  Thank goodness for the pool.  We’re making good use of it!  We hired someone from Craigslist to get a recycled play structure… it was a great deal but I felt so sorry for them out there in the sun!  Decided it’s a good time to resurface the asphalt too, since we have huge cracks.  Most importantly, though, we got our greenhouse frame!!  Another Craigslist find, it was purchased by a couple who never put it up.  Not a standard shape – I think it’s actually a carport frame but it came with the heavy duty greenhouse plastic and it’ll work just fine.  Now, to get the cover on…

 We signed up for Mountain Bounty’s CSA as we obviously won’t be growing our own this year… all three shares (veggies, fruit, and flowers).  What an awesome selection!  Look at this veggie drawer and that’s not all of it.

The boxes are almost unpacked, and after moving furniture about 27 times I think we’ve got thing about set.  TM was nice enough to buy me a few flowering plants for the back patio while he was out (you don’t get to my heart through my stomach – it’s plants).  The deer thought they were an awesome treat!  We have learned that the oasis of watered grass is just for them.    As we get into the dry season I am sure it’ll just get worse.  

Oh well, trying to enjoy the wildlife since it is beautiful if destructive.  

Speaking of, check out this HUGE black widow that was in the stables.    

We really are enjoying ourselves – got a pool fence and the kids are loving the backyard now that we’re safe.  It’s pretty awesome you can remove it yourself and they can’t climb it.  Some serious barbeque going on as well!

 

 

 

 

A new place, again; after countless moves and at least six homes (and gardens) fixed up and left or sold.  A military life has its quirks!   We took the leap on this one, though and are determined to make it the real farm (we did call the last place a farm, but with only laying chickens and one batch of broilers not sure if it really qualified…we did have a tractor – I think that might be what does it).  We lucked into this gorgeous property since the owner hadn’t even actually listed it yet.  As soon as he saw it Tractor Man (TM) had to have it.  I walked in a month later seeing it for the first time and I’m in love too. 

 

It has some amazing features since the builder was a contractor and had access to some unique materials.  My favorites so far are the custom barn doors and the wisteria covered  I-beams over the back patio.  He also supposedly rented the property for weddings and parties.  Ahh

 someday (I’m saying this in my dreamy voice as I have a 2-month old and 4-year old so this isn’t happening soon).  In the meantime, new kitchen applian

ces were the first upgrade and make one homesteading lifestyle change right off the bat – no microwave (the matching one was WAAAAY overpriced).  Apparently we need a washer/dryer too since our 2-year-old set doesn’t fit through the laundry room door!   Bye Bye appliances, hello Lowe’s.