We had 48 straight hours of no rain on our homestead this weekend! We made great use of all the dry daylight hours we could to get some spring maintenance and upgrading projects going once again. But our weekend was not filled entirely with sweaty homestead chores. Nope, we worked in some self-reliance skills training fun with the grandkids, welcomed 14 new arrivals, and I expanded a recent work-from-the-homestead endeavor.
Meet our 13 new Rhode Island Red chicks. My husband texted to tell me he was at Tractor Supply and wanted to know if I needed anything. Honestly, who doesn’t always “need” something from Tractor Supply. There are no stores in our rural county buy Family Dollar and Dollar General, so I was going to take advantage of Bobby’s unexpected stop and sweet offer.
When he asked if I still wanted some Rhode Island Red chicks, I said of course. We had three right after we moved onto our homestead, but lost them to predators. As chickens go, Rhode Islands are not my favorite, from a personality standpoint, they are more than a bit high strung and somewhat easily frightened, but they lay delicious brown eggs (which my banty hens sit for them, Reds are not typically good sitters) are easy to train to free range and exceptionally heat tolerant.
I expected Bobby to bring me home four chicks, but he told the kid working the poultry section at Tractor Supply he wanted 12 pullets. There were only 13 left, so the threw it in for free. Right now the ladies are in a stock tank on a table in my living room – my mother so hates when I do that, but we will be past the last of the weather I am worried about and the ladies can move to the coop and run.
The sooner the chicks can be introduced to both the great outdoors and the rest of the flocks the better. Our chicks that were born “in the wild” and never spent any time in a lighted brooder have fared far better than any others. They had their mommas around to teach them how to be chickens from day one. It was completely adorable watching Soup and Stew teach their chicks how to forage and fly.
No one lives in the Fort Knox of chicken coops anymore. Something my husband and his buddy
Who spent tons of hours and hundreds of dollars fortifying my coop, never let me forget. Even the ducks won’t go in the coop now, they prefer to hang out on the pond until almost dark then go sleep in the barn. I think this weekend I am going to saw the legs off of the duck hut Bobby built them when we still lived in town, attach it to some tires from the hubby’s junk pile (one of his beloved junk piles) put it in the pond and tie it off on a tree to give them a floating home.
We also welcomed a livestock guardian dog onto the homestead. Our daughter and son-in-law bought a little fur ball and named is Sasha, She is half Great Pyrenees and half St. Bernard. So far so good with her, but she tends to want to chase my chickens. I think my Jovie is teaching her bad habits. Jovie never offers to harm a chicken, she is merely embracing her Blue Heeler herding instincts much to the great displeasure of the flock.
Sasha simply does not like water. She absolutely refused to get in the creek to play with Jovie and the grandkiddos, even though it was clear to see she was desperate to be a part of the fun. At one point, I had enough of her whining and pacing along the bank and picked her up and put her in the water. She thanked me for helping her get over her fear of water by shaking all over me as soon as she emerged. It is incredible how wet a puppy can get after only being exposed to water for a whole five seconds.
Since I am sharing homesteading critter news, I will offer an update on Pearl. She still has her leg and it is 90 percent healed over. She will never be able to walk or stand on it again after the dog attack, but she has shoulder movement and leans on the leg to bend down when she browses for food or when she jumps up on something and leans – usually again, for food. Pearl might be a little goat, but she is a huge eater.
In the photo below you will see Pearl and the rest of the goat family in the upper pasture with the horses. I was shocked the first time I saw her in the upper pasture, it was the furthest she had walked since the attack and not a place she frequented even when she was whole. Her significant other, Not Negan, has come to think he is a horse, so he spends his days glued to the side of my Ruby in the upper pasture all day. His ventured up there and buddied up with Ru (a red roan Peruvian Paso) while Pearl was stalled and being treated after the attack. Sometimes Not Nega uses Ru for shade and stands between her legs under her belly. He climbs the back barn gate to try to eat out of horse tubs alongside Ruby in the mornings now – and then goes on to taste what the chickens are being served, what’s on the menu for the ducks, to sample the guineas breakfast, and then ultimately, to steal a morsel or so of food from his kid, Rooster. Not Negan is a big eater too.
Look how fast sweet Pearl can run on only three good legs! I really thought we were going to lose her after the dog attack, but our diligent and largely all-natural treatment of her wounds and her strong will to live, got her through it.
It may look like Jovie is being the best herd dog ever getting the horses and goats to leave the upper pasture and head to the barn, but all they had to do was see me arrive on the wheeler at about dusk, and hear me yell, “It’s time for snack” and they all took off running straight to the barn for put up. In all actuality, Jovie was merely the slowest one in the group and wound up behind the rest.
This weekend we had tribe members over and did some creek exploration and skills training with the younger set. The self-reliance activities I plan for gatherings of our tribe are also a part of the homesteading homeschool curriculum I am building. The learning adventures are great at stand alone memory-making and skills building activities, but are designed to also be tied into curriculum standards for homeschooling.
I bought some rubber ducks and frogs to have a creek race from our “private beach” from the Dollar Tree. They came in a package of 3 for a $1, so it it fell into the cheap learning fun category. Our beach is as wide as two medium SUVs and a little over twice as long. There is a River Birch tree growing on it and it is surrounded by wild blackberry bushes.
The sand is soft and easily packs into sand castle molds to entice the children to let their imaginations roam free as they build temporary structures, make motes, and create bridges for their little figures and dolls to cross out of sticks. I still have more clearing off of the beach area to do to get rid of stray branches and thick grapevine, but it rapidly becoming one of my favorite places on the homestead.
I spent hours cutting a trail back to it for recreational purposes, but also so we could expand our “U Pick” berry selling homesteading business. Folks love to come and buy a basket and pick their own berries while soaking up the beautiful scenery. This year we are going to do some outdoor photo sessions as well as pony and mini donkeys rides on specific dates to increase the money making options.
Before we had a picnic and played in the sand, the children and I walked around the beach and animal watering hole crossing into the creek to identify tracks. Last week we made plaster casts of tracks after a fun and interactive lesson about native wildlife and predators.
This week I focused on teaching the children about frogs, ducks, and snakes. This coming weekend the activities will focus on turtles and lizards, but my Bobby happened across this cute little guy while we were at the beach, so we learned a little bit about lizards this week too.
I put together an explorer’s pack for each child and do some of the printables activities and art activities with them before we leave for an adventure. I made the explorer packs by using some painter’s canvas drop cloth, baling twine for straps and Velcro enclosures. The drop cloth is durable, dries quickly, and cheap.
One of the items in the pack this week was a set of native snake identification flashcards. The children learned about snake habitats, behavior, and how to identify a venomous snake, before our adventure. They also learned about how some non-venomous snakes can fake looking like a poisonous snake by puffing their head in a such a manner that it looks triangular instead of rounded and the breeds of snakes that can also make a rattling like sound to scare off predators.
Ohio is home to only three venomous snakes, two of which LOVE to live in our beautiful region. So we focused on the Timber Rattler and the Copperhead with great vigor. My Bobby had to stifle back laughter at my expense multiple times when I was informing the kiddos there are no venomous water snakes in Ohio and that despite what they might here, cottonmouths do not live here, but a non-venomous look-alike who will prefer to flee but strike and bite the heck out of them if feeling threatened, does.
I have a completely irrational fear of water moccasins – cottonmouth snakes. Have you ever watched Lonesome Dove, fellow homesteaders? My irrational fear predates the swarming killer water moccasins in the miniseries by one of my favorite authors, but intensified after watching the show.
While we all waded into the creek, the children were tasked with pointing out areas a snake might live of be hanging out. We also talked about safety precautions which must always be followed when picking up a log, rock, or climbing onto either, anywhere in the woods.
How to use Snake Exploration Adventure as Part of a Homeschooling Unit
- Research and write about native snakes
- Compare and contrast the various breeds
- Put native snake breeds them into categories based upon habitat, size, venomous nature, and dietary habits
- Make a diorama of native snake habitats
- Make snakes out of Play-Doh to match native breeds
- Purchase little plastic snakes and use them as math manipulatives for counting, additions, and subtractions problems
- Make a field guide video sharing what you know about snakes
- Research and write about snake bite first aid and then put what was learned into practice by making a “how to” video
- Write a storybook about a snake and illustrate it with hand drawn art, computer graphics, or photos the children take themselves
- Learn about the life cycle of snakes and create artwork or use Play-Doh to create an eggs, nest, baby snakes, and adult snakes
- Go snake hunting – make stuffed snakes out of socks and hide them outdoors in places a snake who inhabit, or indoors after making some corresponding scenery on paper and infusing a little make believe. Teach the children how to stay safe in the woods, what snakes can hurt them, and what snakes are beneficial to a homestead.
- Older children can learn how a snake can be used to make leather and to eat after learning how to skin and prepare a snake for a meal.
This is a common Ohio water snake. It is also one of the big fakers I mentioned above. It was slithering around just outside of a ravine near our barn and headed to the pond when a tribe member started to shoot it thinking it was a copperhead, but took the time to get a closer look (I so would not have done that…sorry snake) and only then noticed it was non-venomous.
In the photo above you can see how triangular its head looks, which is an indicator a snake is poisonous. This natural self-preservation tactic almost got it shot in it versatile head. In the photo below, our tribe member was showing his wife and I that it did not have a forked tongue. The snake was quicker than the camera lens and I failed to capture the tongue:
Because the Ohio water snake is not poisonous, we released it back into the ravine after everyone got to check it out. The smelly musk the snake released, also a self-preservation tactic, made all of the kids giggle and caused our tribe member’s wife to tell him he was had to go get a shower and change his clothes before getting back into their vehicle.
While waiting at the finish line during the creek race, Auddie and the other kiddos learned about the power of water. The children found various natural objects and then we discussed them and estimated their weight. The children then took turns places them at the center of the rock that serves as a natural culvert on the creek crossing, where it slopes, to time how long it takes for the flowing water to move the object into the creek and then down to a designated focal point about five feet away. I took photos and kept notes on my phone so we could chart the experiment and discuss the results later.
We followed nearly the same exploration track with the frogs as we did the snakes. A set of Ohio frog identification flashcards was also included in this week’s explorer pack.Before going on our adventure I made little frogs out of green felt (about $.23 a sheet at Walmart) and let the children decorate the faces with glue on eyes, a piece of red felt they could glue on for a tongue, and had them draw on a mouth. We also made lily pads out of a lighter shade of green felt and glued on little plastic flies I bought for $1 at Dollar Tree at Halloween time.
There are no dangerous frogs in Ohio, so we spent some time on learning about frog gigging and how to make frog legs.
The guys were able to catch a few frogs for the children to check out close-up and to handle before releasing them back into the water.
We did a little creek panning to see what kind of rocks and little wildlife we might find. Each child is allowed to take three rocks back up the hill to the main area of the homestead to paint (after learning about the rocks) and add it to the always growing and changing play area entrance art display. The only rule is that any rock that goes onto the concrete slab must touch another rock before it to is slapped with a little Quikreet and affixed into place.
In addition to many of the same homeschool activities noted on the snake list above, you could also catch some tadpoles in the water and keep them in a bowl or aquarium so they could witness, chart, draw, and write about the transformation.
All of the little tribe members are very familiar with ducks since I am a huge fan and keep them. I created some activities designed to illustrate the difference between domestic and meat ducks and wild ducks.
We have quite a few burgeoning hunters in our group, so I printed some wild ducks images out on the computer and they shot at them with squirt guns. To make the activity more challenging for the older children, I mounted the images onto paint stirrer sticks and had an adult move them about as the children fired away.
No wild ducks inhabit our creek, but the live in great abundance at the man-made lake our creeks flows into a mile away, so we took a little field trip to visually compare and contrast how differently the wild ducks look and behave as compared to my domestic ducks. Most notable, the wild ducks can fly and migrate.
The children all worked together to make a nest out of twigs and then we lined it with straw and put it near the barn on a secluded slope where my ducks like to gather, My ducks are lousy sitters, they get bored with the whole things after a few days and then wander off, sometimes to revisit the nest but not often. They tend to drop eggs wherever they happen to be and I have to search for them on a daily basis.
The children went on the egg hunt with me this weekend and we chose to put the finds into my incubator instead of keeping them to eat. In order to receive a photo and video of “their” egg each day, the children have to (with parental help) send me a duck fact or picture they have drawn illustrating something they know about ducks, or a question about something they want to know about ducks.
The Great Creek Race of 2018
The creek race was supposed to be the highlight of the weekend, and it did not disappoint. It actually surpassed my fun-loving expectations. I was concerned that after the children threw their rubber ducks and frogs into the creek from the beach, that we would not have enough time to get them all down to the finish line before they floated across. My fears were completely unfounded to a substantial degree.
I knew not all of the rubber ducks and frogs would make it across the finish line, but what I didn’t know was what actually getting them anywhere near the finish line, was going to entail. At first I was oblivious and was partying at the finish line with the kiddos and playing in the great.
It seemed like a long time had passed, but I am an impatient person by nature, except when it comes to children and animals, so I figured it had not been as long as I figured since the rubber toys were tossed into the water. Oh, it so had.
When our daughter came pushing the stroller with Ariyah to the finish line she was laughing dramatically when I asked if the rubber ducks and frogs were almost there. At 30 minutes in, the toys had only traveled a grand total of 20 feet!
I left Brea in charge of all the kiddos and rode on the wheeler back down to where the rest of the tribe was moving about. As I got closer I saw my Bobby and the rest of the men with long makeshift walking sticks in their hands poking the rubber frogs and ducks out of one spot or another – and then yet another, as they kept getting stuck. This went on the entire trek down the stretch of creek being used for the races. The section stretched roughly across three acres of land.
I couldn’t do anything but laugh at the sight. Instead of getting irritated, the men took it all in stride and made it a quest to get the floating toys down to the finish line to the children waiting to cheer and see who won.
Our blue heelers tried to “help” but kept getting in the way. When various men waded into the creek to dislodge a stuck rubber frog or duck and toss it further up the creek, the dogs would run after it trying to play fetch. The holes they made in the rubber toys caused some of them to take on so much water they floated sideways or sunk.
There are a couple of little waterfalls in the creek and when I saw one coming up I told Bobby to hold on and I would get the kids back up so they could watch the frogs and ducks go over it.
He said, “Don’t you dare!”
Apparently he and our son-in-law were elbows in the stick and log dam that created one of the waterfalls pulling out frogs and ducks for more than five minutes. I sure am glad they didn’t discover one of the snakes the children had been learning about earlier while they were rescuing the rubber racers!
Our oldest grandson kept running back and forth yelling back to the other children the numbers of the frogs and ducks in the lead, further building the excitement while they all waited eagerly at the finish line, at this point all of them were soaking wet from playing in the creek and likely shivering, but still all smiles.
Not only did the guys have to keep criss-crossing the creek to free the stuck frogs and ducks, they had to climb up a steep heel or two and then back down to reach some of them that had their pathway blocked in the deep water. The fun Sunday afternoon activity turned out to be about as much manual labor as baling hay!
Crosley’s frog was the winner and Auddie’s duck came in second place. After about two hours we finally had half of the rubber toys thrown into the creek cross the finish line. The ones that did not sink will eventually make their way down the creek. Probably sometimes after the next hard rain (which could be any minute now the way this winter and spring have gone) or flash flood, they will wind up in the lake and some fisherman will be highly disappointed when he reels it out of the water.
Except when some of the older children wanted to watch a video of the race progress on my phone as I went back and forth from the finish line to check on the rubber frogs and ducks, even the “prefer to be indoors on an electronic device) portion of the group of youngster remained tech free for the vast majority of the weekend – I call the exploration event a success based upon that fact alone.
So, fellow homesteaders, we spent our weekend exploring, learning, laughing, and making memories. It just really doesn’t get much better than that!