Raising Turkeys (and assorted birds)

This week on KiwiHomesteading;

The challenge of raising turkeys

When Victor and I decided to move to Canterbury we were very interested in finding a place where we could become self-sufficient and build a sustainable life.  We started small by raising chickens in the city and growing a veggie patch. We always knew we wanted to do bigger things.   Now, I come from a long line of people who are used to eating turkey for a special day in November.  You might know what I’m talking about… That big day in the US when two birds are on death row for being turkeys and one is famously pardoned?

Yes, I’m talking about Thanksgiving.  Well in New Zealand it is really hard to come by turkeys prior to Christmas and even then they are extremely expensive.  Americans are used to basically buying all the “fixings” (ingredients) for Thanksgiving dinner (and pre-Christmas shopping for presents) and if they spend enough money the shops will often throw a whole turkey in for free! Even a small (by American standards) frozen turkey would cost about 90 New Zealand dollars.  That’s out of our price range for just the meat for one meal, to be honest.  So instead we’re growing our own.

Turkeys themselves are very interesting creatures.  They tend to be excellent “egg-sitters” and go broody easily but they’re terrible mothers who often lose track of their turkey (or chicken) chicks.  They are also not very smart and will accidentally squish a bantam chick that they’re trying to keep warm.  The males are stunningly feathered and have very hilarious and comical “strut-dances” as they eye their females.

Now it happened that our three species of hen — turkey, chicken and guinea fowl — all started laying eggs at about the same time. It also turned out that at least one guinea fowl, at least two turkeys, and several of our chickens were male. Barnyard complications ensued. For example, the females would all share the same nesting boxes when laying, and so the broody birds ended up sitting on assorted eggs that would take different lengths of time to hatch. Moreover, even though we had more nesting boxes than simultaneously broody females… You know how in real estate, it’s said that the three most important words are, “Location, location, location?” It turned out that some nesting boxes were particularly highly sought after, so that we might find two turkeys and a big chicken in a nesting box that might comfortably accommodate one large bird or two small ones.

We also discovered something biological. As mentioned previously, turkeys don’t make very good mothers, so we salvaged a lot of our early eggs to incubate them at home (we’re still living off site). Many of the hatchlings were easily identified, but there were some that confused us. They came from little white speckled eggs, so we thought they were guinea fowl chicks, but as they grew they looked way too much like either chickens or turkeys. Well, as it turns out, guinea fowl are capable of interbreeding — and producing viable offspring — with both chickens and turkeys! So we now have guinea chickens and guinea turkeys running around. Do not try this at home, kids — guinea fowl hybrids are high-spirited animals.

It was shortly after that, for (mostly) unrelated reasons, that we decided to sell our adult guinea fowl. But that is a subject for another post.

We will leave you with a picture of our star turkey, Tom, although his career is now drawing to a close.  Jerry will continue on in his place as per tradition!

Verses of the day

2 Thessalonians 3:5 “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.”

Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as  you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

~Grace

Tom Turkey 2019

One Crazy Drive

Hello, again my dear readers!

At last, I bring to you our tale of the journey over the mountains to the West Coast of New Zealand.  We had bought two chicken coops on Trade Me, and they were for collection by the buyer. Victor got up bright and early, and nipped down the road to collect a car transporter, as there was no way our ordinary trailer would hold even the bigger of the two coops by itself, let alone both together! Would we be able to collect them both and bring them back in one day? Would they fit, and would our vehicle be up to the task?

Our drive over was uneventful, except for a heavily laden cyclist on a tricky hill, but we were happily entertained by the use of the age-appropriate children’s radio broadcast Adventures In Odyssey by Focus on the Family as we drove through sunny hill country, grand beech forests, and remote farmland. We had a few stops for toilet breaks and for food (plus one to collect our old chicken water barrel), but our adventure didn’t really start until we arrived in Stillwater, on the outskirts of Greymouth.

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We stopped to pick up our first coop, the larger of the two, and were asked to wait around fifteen minutes for the front loader to come from next door. We spent the time mostly looking over our purchase and talking to the man who built it.  He is a retired builder, and we could tell that he puts his heart and soul into whatever he does.  His other coops, dog runs and other sorts of small but well-designed buildings were all over the small farm section.  He even offered us some extra things like a bag of clean wood shavings to line the coop when we got it to our home.  When the front loader arrived, the builder took time to make sure that the coop was properly loaded, and he and his grandson helped to secure ratchet tie-downs and add orange flags to the coop to make it stand out more on the road.  He offered a little advice on driving such a heavy load that was also very much appreciated.  We left feeling very happy with our purchase and wondering strongly if we might see the kind old builder again.

Our second big stop was to pick up the little colourful “maternity coop” as Victor calls it.  We waited what seemed like forever to find someone who could help us load it.  We had tried to call in advance to tell them when we would arrive, but no one had picked up.  We certainly had arranged to pick it up that day in any case.

Honeybee and Stargazer spent their time wandering around looking at the ponies, climbing random things, swinging on the little two-person swing and generally having a good time.  Duckie spent most of the time waiting asleep.  Victor and I wandered around mostly just talking about the big coop.   It wasn’t that the little coop wasn’t nice… it just isn’t quite as grand as our big coop.  Eventually, the landowner was able to get his forklift and helped to load the coop.

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They Both Fit!

By now it was getting dark, even though the West Coast is supposed to be only three hours drive from home and we had left at ten o’clock in the morning. By mid-April, the days here are getting noticeably short. We certainly wouldn’t have wanted to go on such an expedition any later in the year!

We had originally expected to be home in time for dinner. In typical Kiwi Homesteading style, where everything takes longer than expected, that didn’t happen. So it was dinner in Greymouth, where the golden arches came to our rescue, and then off down the highway. Ducky’s cherished blanket toy was a casualty of war, sadly, lost (we think) on the side of the road.

Now there are two main roads over the Southern Alps between Canterbury and the West Coast. The longer, gentler, more northerly route is the Lewis Pass, which we took on the way over. Since it was already so late, we decided to come back over Arthur’s Pass, the more direct route. As we headed east along Highway 73, we passed grim signs: “Ye who bear heavy burdens, beware the road ahead,” and, “Turn back now, lest thy carriage prove unworthy,” and finally, “Fly, you fools!”

Well, actually the sign may or may not have been more mundane like this: “STEEP GRADES. NOT RECOMMENDED FOR TOWING VEHICLES.” But this is Middle-Earth, after all.

At first, we wondered what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t until we left the gentle valley of the Taramakau and started up the Otira Gorge itself that it became evident that the warning was not in vain. Victor watched as the gear counter, which started at a healthy 5 out of 6, went inexorably down to 4, then 3, then 2… the accelerator was on the floor… the engine toiled manfully as we crawled, inch by inch, up the perilously winding road and the long slope of the dreadful Viaduct.

Just as we thought that the engine was at its final gasp, we started to climb faster, and I exclaimed that it couldn’t be the car doing this, it was God pushing us up the hill! The girls and I all praised God as we continued to gain speed in our climbing efforts.  Each time the car seemed like it would slow we in earnest prayed loudly something like “Please! push this car up the hill, God!”.  Stargazer yelled “You can do it, God! I know you can!”.

Not long after that, the slope lessened, and we soon saw, standing tall in our headlights, the Dobson Memorial, marking the summit of the high pass.

There were two remaining questions for us. The first and most vexing was that of fuel. There are very few petrol stations in the Southern Alps, and even though we had filled up in Greymouth, our car needed lots to drink to get over Arthur’s Pass and the gentler but higher Porter’s Pass, and on the further side of Porter’s there was still a long road over the plains. Mercifully, the petrol station at Springfield was still open.  It is fairly rare petrol stations to be open late at night in the country.  Victor certainly sighed in relief when we pulled up and noticed that it was actually a 24/7 pay-at-the-pump type petrol station.

The second was whether we would fall asleep, especially Victor, whose eyelids were starting to droop. I wasn’t in any better shape myself, and my eyes were sore and my vision blurred. The roads were almost deserted, and the river mist lay thick on the land. The music was either grating on our ears or sending us to sleep. Finally, we were resorting to trying to name animals, chemical elements, books of the Bible… anything to keep our minds alert as we drove those last few miles.

We made it home in one piece, and after cleaning up a carsick Ducky and putting to bed the older two, we were only too pleased, after a successful but very tiring expedition, to collapse into bed ourselves.

I hope you have enjoyed our story for the evening.  We will follow this up with a post with more photos of our coops and the work we have done to set them up.  Please follow us on Facebook if you haven’t already as we will likely post quite a few more pictures there than on here. You may also get a few sneak peeks at our new animals.

Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

~Grace

De fine incepti

Dear Readers,

Thank you very much for sticking with us all these months as we’ve been working hard to find our permanent home. As you might be able to tell from the above Latin phrase, we’ve reached the end of Step 1, and we now own a beautiful farm block! Our new land is 4.65 hectares (roughly 12 acres) in the heart of Canterbury, just northwest of a little country town called Cust. Our property has a fairly gently rolling, but mostly flat landscape but it is surrounded by mountain views!

We carried out our final inspection of the land on Saturday 23 February. This inspection is properly called the “pre-settlement inspection”, and if you buy real estate in New Zealand using the normal contract, you’re entitled to one such inspection as late as the day before settlement day. We’ve found these to be very useful, as you can check that the property is in good shape and that all the chattels you’ve bought are there and in good working order. Apart from the odd deceased sheep — another farmer formerly used the land as sheep pasture — we found nothing untoward, and it was full steam ahead. Settlement itself was very smooth, as our lawyer has taken good care of us, and so the magic spells were uttered and the land became ours about midday on Thursday 28 February!

Now I would very much like a suitable name for our lovely new block of land. I like the thought of something to do with the three prominent hills around us (Mount Oxford to the west, Mount Thomas to the north, and Summer Hill to the south-east), but Victor is still waiting for that flash of inspiration. We welcome any suggestions from the readership, so feel free to post them in the comments section. The winner (if there is one) will get exclusive bragging rights and a shout-out on the blog.

No sooner had we settled on the land than we got right to work. Victor took Friday 1 March off from his day job, and we met with no fewer than four contractors on the site.

The farm came fully fenced around its perimeter, but we decided that we wanted to have a few different little paddocks fenced off and needed some water lines put in, so we could water any animals we acquire. Thanks to Austin of Homesteady for the suggestion; a water line out to the middle of the section has proven remarkably inexpensive, and is sure to be a lot better than carting water barrels around with a tractor! We also wanted a new driveway put in; all the services (power, water and phone) are in the south-west corner of the section, and the existing vehicle gate was in the south-east corner. We didn’t want to have to construct 200 or more metres of driveway; that would have been both costly and wasteful. Victor found a local fencing contractor who has done excellent work; more on that below.

Another contractor was the environmental engineer, who was there to help us design a suitable septic and stormwater system. The fencing contractor helped her by digging a test pit, since he needed to do the water trenching anyway. We’ll say more about her work in due course, but will note that this needed to be done early as a wastewater design is a necessary part of building approval.

The two other contractors were a driveway contractor, who just came out to have a look, and a water pump supplier.

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I found a “local” who was in need of a few acres of land to graze her horses, so the big portion of the grass that we don’t need right away will be kept clean and earn us some income at the same time. The pre-existing vehicle gate has come in very useful: it gives her a means of access without having to go through the home paddock.

The fencing contractor is Andy Smith, who runs a business called Rural and Lifestyle Fencing. He also does lifestyle block irrigation and stock watering. As you can see from the image to the left we’ve chosen to add three 80 litre ball float valve filled stock troughs, one for each paddock (except the home paddock, which came with its own trough). It took him less than 5 days to complete more than 300 metres of new fence lines, drive the gate posts, and do the irrigation lines and set up the troughs for us. Everything looks very professional and we think it will last for years to come.

Whenever we go out there, Victor and I feel our spirits rise. Stargazer keeps asking where our house is, and of course, that is going to be a whole journey in itself. Honeybee likes picking up objects of geological significance and seeing how they taste. I don’t know if she’ll get any beneficial minerals from that or not; Victor thinks probably not, as those rocks are likely to be mostly silica. In the end, at least she’ll have a robust immune system! Little Ducky has yet to express any certain opinion on the subject of the new property. She seems to just want to drink her goat’s milk and spend time in her Daddy’s arms. Our Bella absolutely loves it of course.

Isaiah 40:30-31 says:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I hope you find rest, renewal and comfort in this passage as I have in the past few months. I feel that God is leading us on a very big journey and I hope you will continue to support us as we follow in His steps!

God Bless you and your house

~Grace

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Allow us to introduce…

…the newest member of our merry band, the vivacious Bella!

When we first decided to get a large block of land, and considered running stock on it, our minds turned to Man’s best friend. What better time to look for a helper? We — and by “we” I mostly mean Grace — thought long and hard, but not too long nor too hard, about breeds and such like. We wanted a dog who would be fast, energetic, easy to train, loyal, good with children, and quiet (mostly; we have to make some concessions to reality). And while we’re at it, why not world peace? But we were pleasantly surprised. We went on Trade Me, which is New Zealand’s answer to eBay for our international readers, and found a family who were selling a border collie / huntaway cross for a relatively inexpensive amount.

It would seem that the family dog, the border collie mum, had some unexpectedly personal contact with Nana and Grandad’s unfixed huntaway. The result was a litter of no less than eleven puppies, which was a bit much for a town family to keep at home! So we stopped by for a visit. Most of the pups were mildly curious about us, but mostly just wanted to sleep, eat or play. One of them, though, a very little girl, climbed into my arms and nestled herself there. To this day, I say that she chose us, and Grace is quick to correct that to, “She chose you.”

Bella was born in March 2018, and we took her home in May. This is how she was about when we first got her:

And last month, when she was about ten and a half months old and had been living with us for nine months:

Bella is very much a puppy. She enjoys chasing frisbees and balls, and doesn’t always bring them back, preferring to run rings around us while holding them in her mouth. Grace remarks that the one thing she will catch and bring back to us is her own tail, which is frequently seen swinging rapidly from side to side. She will absolutely lick a small child to death at the slightest opportunity, much to the displeasure of Honeybee and, to a lesser but still significant extent, Stargazer. Ducky, on the other hand, doesn’t seem unduly concerned, and likes to put her fingers in Bella’s nose! Our life with Bella has been in some ways as much about learning ourselves as training her. For instance, we spent part of this evening trying to teach Stargazer that when Bella gets in her face she has to remind Bella who’s boss. Collapsing on the ground and crying is not an option unless you wish to be licked even more fiercely.

On the other hand, with grown-ups and other dogs, Bella is remarkably submissive, even timid. It’s not because of any harsh treatment from us; we think she was the natural runt, and we were told she was picked on by her litter-mates. She has started to come out of her shell a bit as she’s grown, and we hope she will be able to keep spending time as appropriate with other well trained dogs. In the meantime, she very much enjoys going for a run with me of an evening.

Over and out,

Victor

Investigations into Livestock Animals

Hello, my fine readers! How are you today? Have you been doing any fun projects lately? What about God’s mission? Is He leading you on any interesting paths?

Well, Victor and I have been sort of pulled into a strange mission by our ears. It would seem that God in all of His infinite wisdom needed us to become homesteaders so that we would make connections with people nearby and join a movement to save one of His critically endangered goat breeds.

photo courtesy of Heather O’Neill

In New Zealand, there is a small island with a long history leading back to good ol’ Captain James Cook. The story goes that in 1773, Captain Cook decided to leave a couple of his favourite goats with the leader of a tribe on a small island located in the Marlborough Sounds, at the northeast tip of the South Island of New Zealand. He is said to have also released a few of them into the wild just prior to setting off at sea so that if he ever came back he would have an instant food source. The breed that developed from those goats is known as the Arapawa Island Goat. There are less than 300 (correction 400) live Arapawas in the world today. They may, in fact, be the most critically endangered goat breed in the world.

So you’re probably wondering why this breed should matter to you … Well, from what I’ve read and heard about through the NZ Arapawa Goat Association, these goats are special.

They have unique genes which are only very distantly related to any other currently known breed. Unfortunately, the breed of goat that Captain Cook raised (the Old English goat) is considered extinct as far as we know so we cannot test current day Arapawas against the Old English Goat genes to see if they are the same. It is unlikely that they are the same exact breed because the span of several hundred years is more than enough time to change a breed’s genetic heritage. That said, these are believed to be the closest thing that we have to that old hardy everyman sort of goat.

Unlike many of the commercial breeds who have been specifically bred to be dwarfed, Arapawas are naturally small. A full-size Arapawa is not usually much bigger than a medium sized dog. They have great milk from what I’ve heard, which is said to be as sweet and as creamy as the Nigerian Dwarf breed, but having the nutty flavour of a Nubian. They are also naturally high milk producers despite their small size. I can’t wait to try some myself!

Arapawas are also really healthy animals from what I understand. While they may not have as much immune protection to commercial farming (they do suffer from worms fairly easily), their immune systems are great at lifestyle and small farming ventures. They lived for hundreds of years without much input from man but are also very humanly social and friendly after only a couple of generations of domestication. Victor and I considered trying to get a normal breed like the Nigerians, or the Nubians, but when we were faced with an opportunity to help save a special variety of goat it made total sense to us to try. I mean, just look at this face!

Mayhem by Heather O’Neill

Please consider helping to support this critically endangered species by praying, volunteering, donating to the cause, or maybe even taking on a few of these beautiful creatures if you have the time and space! Please click on the links below for more information!

https://www.rarebreeds.co.nz/arapawagoat.html and http://www.arapawagoats.com/dna.html

 

May God bless you and keep you!

~Grace

*all photos courtesy of Heather O’Neill on the Arapawa Facebook group’s page. Thank you very much for allowing me to use your beautiful animals here!

 

 

Investigations into rural internet

One of the aspects of our due diligence investigation into our land was the availability of internet. Since I work in IT, and since an online presence is important to our various endeavours, getting a good and reliable internet connection was necessarily important to us. We had already pulled out of one block of land because it appeared that internet was thin on the ground out there, and so it was important for us to check this out.

New Zealand was a relatively early adopter of the internet, as could be expected given our remoteness. However, while our people love to be online, we don’t necessarily get good speeds. Our links to the rest of the world are few in number, and internal infrastructure (or lack there of) is an obstacle. We love to hate Chorus, the telephone lines and infrastructure company, and it’s almost certainly true that some decisions they have made over the years have exacerbated the problem; but the biggest challenge is our population density. New Zealand’s population density is said to be about 18 persons per square kilometre, only a little more than half that of the United States (and that’s with Alaska and other sparsely populated areas included). The Government has spent several years leading the charge to bring fibre (“Ultra Fast Broadband” or UFB) to homes and businesses, but that is only really in the cities and large towns, though there is a plan to bring fibre also to smaller towns especially where there are schools and hospitals. Word on the ground, naturally, is that Chorus has no plans to do fibre to the home outside urban areas; and they can’t really be blamed, as putting what might be tens of kilometres of fibre in the ground to look after only a few hundred customers is not really worth their time. They do offer a process for “Next Generation Access on Application” (abbreviated to NGA on Application, or NOA), but the ball park figures typically end in four or five zeroes.

So where does that leave us? Well, in rural areas where phone cable exists, VDSL is available (for customers very close to the cabinet), or ADSL (for customers moderately close to the cabinet). But we were told on enquiry with ISPs that our property is either just beyond the effective range of ADSL, or just within it but far enough away from the cabinet that we could expect poor and slow service. Scratch that, then.

That leaves us with three other options: The so-called rural broadband initiative (RBI), which uses the cellphone network; terrestrial wireless; or satellite. The good news is that both RBI and terrestrial wireless are likely to be available where we will be building, because satellite is not a desirable option: one pays through the nose for very limited bandwidth allowances, slow speeds, and weather driven outages. RBI and terrestrial still have quotas and speed limits, but the speeds are comparable to what one might hope to achieve with VDSL in the towns, and quotas are what they are – it is just one of those things about living in rural areas. If your lifestyle absolutely requires unlimited internet, the lesson is that you really should live in an actual town.

And who knows? In years to come, it might even be cost-effective to do fibre in rural areas, but I’m not holding my breath. Still, we will put a duct in the ground just in case, because one never knows what tomorrow may bring.

Welcome to 2019: A year of extraordinary adventures and growth!

Hello and welcome back to our first blog of the year!

Our household has been super busy this summer! How about yours?  Did you do anything fun over Christmas and New Years? Have you added anything to your homesteads or have you done anything different in your life?  We’d love to hear about it!

Speaking of new experiences and adventures – We’ve just given our lawyer instructions to confirm the purchase of 4.6ha (11.4 acres) of wonderful land in North Canterbury! (No the photo to the right isn’t it! but that’s a hint of our next post!)

Both Victor and I are eager to start the process of building and have been in contact with many different builders in our area. We’re meeting with one of the ones we’re most likely to go with this Thursday. We’ve also got very affordable finance/loans from our bank. Our lawyer is quite happy with the situation too and has provided a ton of information to help us prepare for this huge step! We’ve looked at many different kinds of builds, and although instant gratification with a big house right away is nice, we feel that working in stages on our “dream home” will be both more affordable and will also help keep us from getting in over our heads financially. We’re going to build a beginning structure which will consist of a 3-4 car oversized workshop/garage and a small (but still good sized) 75m2 home which we can later either extend or build a newer bigger one when the time comes.

We’re also in contact with several different local farms to get an idea of the startup costs for the things we would like to do right away (raising heritage breed chickens) and things we are looking at in 6 months to a year (getting goats for example). It’s all happening at once, which is both scary and exhilarating at the same time.

Victor and I will be in touch again soon to tell you about any changes that happen before settlement. If you enjoy reading our blog, please consider sharing and subscribing and let us know in the comments section if you have any suggestions or have any tips for young families in becoming more self-sufficient!

May God bless you and yours!

~Grace