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A Century Old Beauty

One of the endless blessings of our farm is that we have multiple barns and outbuildings.  It was overwhelming at first, to think of all the space and maintenance, but we’ve slowly found our way in to what each one is good for, and how we can use it to be productive.  The “newer” ones are actually in poorer repair, but the old beauty remains as standing the test of time.  We estimate it to be about 100 or more years old, and it’s stature is quite assuredly the showpiece of the farm.  Historically, it is considered a bank barn, with an extension built for storage.  Practically, we’ve used it as storage for the hay off our top pasture for the past three years. The bottom level has housed every baby chick in the brooder.  We’ve had goats birthed in it, chicks hatched in it, and a number of wild birds and bats that call the creaky old rafters home.

When we first looked at our property, we were awe struck by the size of the structure, by it’s quiet beauty, and intrigued by the stories it has lived through.  Fast forward a few years and that intrigue and wonder has only grown, as has our affection for it.  To consider the fact that this structure has survived through world wars, through droughts and floods, and through generations of families who have depended on it’s purpose is an awe inspiring thought.  As we spend time, real, quiet, uninterrupted time inside this barn, the amazement just grows.  Each beam, hand hewn, probably with wood from this land, carefully placed to build it’s frame.  Each joint, hand carved to fit into the other, all without the modern conveniences we so readily run to today.  Each slat, nailed by hand to the sides, so carefully placed together that from the outside the weather stays out, and from the inside, the light shines through so brilliantly that electric lights aren’t even needed.  A tiny man door, nearly invisible to most, with a simple latch, that allows someone to sneak inside without opening the massive doors above.  Stepping inside is like standing back in time, and yet standing in it’s present relevance and purpose, all at the same time.

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img_8267We imagine the stories it could tell.  Hundreds of cows likely flowed through the basement in the glory of the 70’s when the milking operation was in full swing.  Hay bales have been stored for years, hay grown from the pastures right behind it, kept in the proper temperature and humidity to keep it all winter, despite whatever chaos may e happening outside it’s walls.  A storage room, likely for feed, tucked neatly inside, that has kept the surplus of the summer safe keeping for winter.  A loft above, undoubtedly climbed upon, and played upon.  And even now, in between the bales of hay, a lone chicken, definitely not the first, chose this barn as her safe haven to hatch a clutch of eggs.

img_8266It’s a life of simplicity, function, purpose, and security.  An inspiration to us all, standing right in front of us, our century old beauty.

 

In a good way

Somehow the kids all ended up in our bed last night watching the Olympics on our small bedroom tv. In between the races, we were all laughing and realizing how much happened in our weekend. When the finally went to bed, my husband and I reminisced about our wonderful family filled farm weekend. Our weekend began early Saturday with prepping for chicken processing. All the kids are involved, plus a few extra friends that we appreciate so much.

It’s moving pretty efficiently at this point, the day goes so quickly, and it never feels like work. By mid afternoon we clean up and have a few drinks. Kids headed off to the pool, enjoying every splendid moment of a perfect day. I took a walk through part of the property I had never seen! Hubby cleared it out last week and I was eager to see what was back nestled in the woods. We finished the day with homemade pizzas gathered around the kitchen table, filled with laughter and exhaustion combined.

Sunday we were out early to church, hubby had of course already done the feed circuit. We stopped at our favorite farm stand for fresh veggies on the way home.  We made homemade waffles and bacon for brunch, and talked about our plans for the day. We headed back to the processing room and bagged and sealed about 100 of the prior days chickens. Labeled, weighed, and inventoried, they were promptly trucked to the freezers. Meanwhile, we decided to open the farm for any customers who might want to come buy fresh chickens and eggs, so the kids set up the table, and got ready for that.

Right on time, customers started showing up! This was our first time, so of course we were excited to meet them and share our little piece of heaven with them. My beloved Kathleen came over too, she and her husband would spend dinner with us in celebration of a successful weekend. We laughed and talked some more, roasted a few chickens for dinner, and headed to our bed for snuggles, ice cream and Olympics.

This weekend was glorious. I mean perfectly, happily, glorious. We worked hard, but we did it as a family. We played, laughed, and loved. I never dreamed when we started this crazy adventure that this kind of simplicity would overwhelm my very existence. To me, this is what life is all about. It is so full I am bursting at the seams. It is hard, but wonderfully rewarding. It is work, but work with a true purpose. We are different, but in a good way.

Goat Stand

I milked the goat again tonight. Yes, that is a sentence I never really dreamed I would say, let alone actually do. My dad keeps laughing at the evolution of his “suburban girl gone country” and my daily escapades.

Perhaps you’re thinking “how does one milk a goat?” Yes, I wondered the same thing. Why milk a goat? Well lots of reasons really, but none of which I’ve entirely figured out yet. You can drink goats milk, all animals like goats milk, goat cheese, goats milk soap, the possibilities are endless really. But the reality of milking this animal are far from the picturesque farm stories that one might envision. I perceived that this blessed animal would happily hop up on the little stand, I would gently attach this lovely Automatic Milker I bought on eBay, and gallons of milk would be retrieved. The reality is that this stubborn animal wants nothing to do with being milked, I drag her to the milk stand, attempt to pick up an animal that is the same weight as I am, she kicks at me while I struggle to attach suction tubes that she hates, and then I get … A trickle. Yes, after all the struggle, I literally get a few ounces out of this goat.

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I thought it would take two days, but it took me two weeks of milking to get enough milk for a batch of soap. That was my one goal for the goat’s milk.  That’s usual for me though. I seem to have major disparities between my perception and reality. I frequently imagine things going much smoother than they do. I also frequently imagine myself doing far more things than I have time to do, or am physically able to do.  I truly hope my family laughs at me kindly.  Then after several weeks of attempting to milk the one goat, she dried up and stopped producing milk.  Just like that, done!  A year of effort, and I got 4 weeks of a result!  Again, par for my reality/perception difficulties.

Thankfully, after the several weeks of effort, the soap making endeavor commenced.  As is typical, we ended up figuring out the recipe on the fly, guessing whether it was right, and hoping we didn’t burn ourselves with the lye.  We ground of up oatmeal, sniffed some lavender oil, and measured out various oils.  It didn’t end up looking perfect, but it works well, and smells great.  At least we started, that’s my general goal with most things…start.  Perfection and refinement can come later, the joy in discovering new things is enough for me right now.

With my slight soap success, I felt that I had reached a point of contentment with the goat.  At least I got four weeks of milk out of her, at least I was able to do something small with her.  But then, last Friday, we got another surprise.  The ever pregnant goat, the one I’ve been expecting to deliver for 3 months, finally had a baby!  And just like that, my hope is once again restored in my ability to get goat’s milk.  Now if she would only cooperate and get up on the goat stand.

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Chicken Addiction

I must admit, farming is addictive.  My husband and I were laughing the other day over the first time I ordered chickens only 3 short years ago.  He wanted 3, I ordered 6.  Within a week, we adopted 4 more and had 10.  It felt overwhelming.  Yesterday’s shipments brought in another 210 birds to our already well populated poultry flock, and we know we could probably handle even more.  Yes, we’ve gone completely crazy.

But crazy might actually not be that weird any more.  As we fervently try to find the best, most natural practices for growing our food, we step back and wonder… Why isn’t everyone this “crazy”? I wouldn’t call us activists quite yet, but knowledge is powerful, and causes any rational thinking person to change their behaviors.  As we study the differences between conventional farming of today and historically organic, natural practices of a century ago, it is a mix of anger, sadness, and empowerment.  Anger, because we as a culture have lost touch with our food and the gift that it is.  Anger, because there are large companies out there that have genetically modified our food in a pursuit of a more “perfect” product.  Sadness, that so many people have so little education over what real food actually looks like.  Sadness, that people are more willing to spend money on soft drinks than vegetables.  Empowerment, because we know that we are committed to figuring out a better way.  Empowerment, because there is a small, but growing culture that wants to find a way to reconnect people to their food, and we are ecstatic to be a part of it.

Every day seems to bring a new awakening to us in how we manage our animals and plants. The boys built a mobile turkey tractor the other day entirely out of recycled items.  It’s ingenious.  Old lawnmower wheels that pop up, an old sign as the roof, and recycled wood from an auction.  It’s amazing how building something organically gives you so much joy.  They could have easily just purchased this tractor, or at least gone to the hardware store and bought all the parts for it.  But instead, with a little ingenuity and grit, they built this adorable structure that we are all immensely proud of.

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Today, we are on to a new learning adventure.  Plotting our next round of chicken processing, we are evaluating what we did last time that worked, and what could we do better this time.  We are so proud of the beautiful peaceful life these little birds have lived, so proud of the feed we’ve provided them, so proud that we didn’t have to mutilate them or treat them poorly during their lifetime.  I suppose some people think it would be easy to just go to the grocery store and buy a chicken breast, but at this point, we could never go back.  We know too much, have worked too hard, have enjoyed the taste difference too greatly.  We are completely committed to our chicken addiction.

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Patch of Grass 

The Garden isn’t planted! Heck, the garden isn’t even plowed. Currently, there is 18 inches of grass where I envision rows of lettuce, squash, and beans to be growing. Considering that we have grown significant amounts of vegetables in prior years, this is quite the frustration for me. Memorial Day weekend has long been our major push for getting things in the ground. But here we are sitting squarely in June with a bunch of seedlings and no where to put them. Every day I come home and am reminded by what we haven’t been able to get done. I am frustrated by this failure.  It’s not like I have just been sitting around though.  We’ve all been busy readying all kinds of things around the farm, preparing for end of year school adventures, a graduation, a party.  We’ve been preparing for new chickens, new turkeys, a new cow, new pastures, new fencing.  We’ve been working our day jobs, running errands, driving children around.  But still, this patch of grass glares at me.


It’s so easy to focus on that patch of grass and get frustrated though. I don’t know why we are always so inclined to focus on the negatives. I find myself doing it often…”I didn’t have enough time to do this.”, “why are you not doing chores?”, “why did you forget to do that?”  The dont’s, the didn’ts, and the forgotten things seem to be the easiest to focus on, at least for me. Sometimes it’s saying these things to myself, silently beating myself up for failing in some way. Sometimes it’s toward my children, when I feel they aren’t living up to my standards or expectations.  Sometimes it’s towards me, because I frequently fall short of getting my to do list done and somewhere along the way I’ve forgotten something, or occasionally, someone.  Sometimes it’s justified, but mostly, it’s merely choosing to focus on the failure instead of the success.

As part of this ever changing journey, we are learning though.  Learning to be patient, learning there is always more work to be done, learning different ways to do what we already thought we knew.  We are also all learning to offer each other grace for our shortcomings.  After all, weren’t we all offered much more grace?  How can I not be thankful when I look at that patch of grass? At least I have it.  At least I will be able to grow food eventually.  How can I not be thankful when I see animals and children running around carelessly? At least they have enough food.  How can I not have pride when I look beyond that would-be garden at the open sky, rolling hills, green grass, and fresh air? I take a deep breath of that fresh air and it brings my focus back to what matters.

We are offered grace when we don’t deserve it.  We are blessed.  My husband and I are best friends and deeply, truly in love.  We are blessed.  Our kids are healthy, happy and here.  We are blessed.  We have the ability to grow our own food.  We are blessed.  We get to walk outside every day and never worry about our safety.  We are blessed.  Life is really that simple if we refocus.   So for me today, I will choose to focus on what could be, and embrace that patch of grass.

A real farm

The blog has been thoughtfully quiet for a few months. With hubby and me both being immersed in our busy season at work, we barely have a spare minute, so our world sort of goes in to hibernation. We do the minimum at home, on the farm, with our family, with everything. But finally, just as the tulips begin their sudden bloom, the deadline passes, our work eases, and we have this glorious gift of time returned to us.

 But time on the farm must be managed quickly, we have goals after all. Well, maybe I have goals and everyone else just goes along for the ride. The planting season is limited. The summer will be here quickly. We would like to grow enough food to feed us for the year. We would like to have all our animals procreate. We would like to raise and butcher 1,000 chickens. We would like to raise fresh turkeys for Thanksgiving. Simple things really. Of course for me, I’d also like to repaint every room in the house, do a major overhaul clean out of excess stuff that we don’t need, take a vacation, learn how to make goat cheese and soap, and redo all the flower beds. Oh yes, I still have a business to run, with another set of goals there. When I write it all down, I realize why my brain feels a bit overwhelmed. I’m really great at making lists, I do alright at checking off tasks, and I always seem to have more commitments than I can fulfil. I’m working on that.

 So when my lists seem to be never ending, I try to make another list (I really like lists) of all of the accomplishments or tasks that have been completed. It makes the undone tasks feel better when I focus on the tasks that are done. So this is where we are. The seeds have been planted. There is a makeshift growing room off the living room. The second goat is pregnant. The first one actually delivered a few weeks ago, but we barely had time to be concerned. To be honest, I had no idea she was even close to delivering, it was a total surprise. Amy, the pig, is pregnant. That’s a happy surprise because we had to process Hank unexpectedly when he came up lame. We are happy he made his mark before leaving us. There are chickens everywhere. I mean literally everywhere. Hundreds of chickens.  We will process the first round in a few weeks and more are in waiting and on order. Turkeys are coming soon. As my husband says, “I think we are a real farm now.”  He’s right. We are a real farm.  There’s lots we still need to do, lots of tasks to check off the lists, and lots we still have to learn.  But I guess we might actually be … a real farm.

Life Cycle

Death is an inevitable fact of any life.  Nothing lives forever, and we know this.  But dealing with any death is still difficult for most of us.  The homestead has been unfortunately filled with loss this week.  Monday it was a missing chicken.  Our egg layers have names, so when Meeka didn’t come home for the night, there is a moment of pause and wondering as to what her fate was.    Hubby looked for signs of a fox, we wondered if a hungry hawk simply ended it quickly for her, possibly a stray cat wandered in to an easy feast.  No matter what, the fact is still that she is gone, and the loss of a daily egg and a fluffy yellow squawker stings for a few minutes.  Yesterday was a dead broiler chicken.  While out for the evening feeding, we discovered the frozen body in the pen.  Perhaps she had a heart attack, perhaps she was just weak.  That loss wasn’t so much sad for her life, but sad for the loss of investment.  Our family would have eaten from that life, and now three months of time and care were lost unexpectedly.

We are preparing physically and mentally for the planned deaths of the remainder of our broiler chickens and two of our pigs.  It will be hard, but ends the cycle we have planned for.  Becoming aware of the origins of our food and being an active participant in our food cycle requires us to also be a part of not only the life, but the death of our animals.  We plan to have the kids present and active, so that they can learn too.  It will be hard, but necessary.  Our animals have lived with respect and humanity, they have been given the best possible food and a lifestyle that is acceptable for who they are.  We have known all along their purpose, but that knowledge still weighs heavy on me.

Today we also lost our beloved Romeo.  A 5lb chihuahua, rescued 8 years ago, he was hardly a farm dog, heck, he was hardly a dog at all.  But he was quirky and snuggly, ever begging for a chunk of meat, and always greeting us when we got home.  He was my office dog, he would come to work and greet my clients, he made everyone smile with his crooked ears and gimpy little gait.  But age finally got the best of him.  His legs couldn’t carry him any more, and his big brown eyes just stared at me wondering why he couldn’t move.  So I had to make another decision, one out of pity and respect for him.  No matter what the rationale is though, the pain of this loss stings hard.   He has been my faithful companion through so many stages of life.  It’s been a somber week, but we must keep moving.  We should have piglets and baby goats on the way, which will breath new life in the spring.  A new round of chicks will bring everyone’s spirit up.  We’re focusing on training Jerome on how to be a real farm dog.  Where we’ve lost, we will eventually gain.  The homestead is a living breathing cycle of life.

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Refresh

All the kids are home from school and I try to soak up every second of time. After all, January is breathing down our neck, our work busy season is quickly approaching, the activities will be in full swing, and before we blink it will be spring. Knowing all this, I try very consciously to be so very present during this time. I took two weeks off from work and determined to shut out the busyness of the outside world. We have baked so many cookies and breads we are out of sugar and butter…and I had overstocked.

Our holiday week has been spent enjoying the strange 60 degree days, clearing some stalls, moving the pastures, baking cakes and cookies, wrapping treasures for each other, and lots and lots of laughs and naps.  This winter hibernation was made all the sweeter by the unseasonably warm weather.

The usual antics have ensued as usual also. For some reason our solar fences quit giving out a charge. It didn’t take the pigs long to figure that out, so we’ve been chasing them more times than I’d like to remember. The newest antics have involved the big cow, Lala, who also figured out her fence wasn’t hot. Seeing a pig in the yard is one thing, seeing a cow standing in your driveway is far more unnerving. Seeing a cow at 10:30 in the evening makes for an exciting end to the day.

Although I know we have to, I’m sad that our two week vacation is coming to an end. The kids will be back at school, we will all be busier at work, and more than half our animals will be ready for our first round of processing. Reflecting on our year, it has been one of the best, most unanticipated years of recent memory. It has also been full of unknowns, full of changes, and full of blessings. Looking ahead, there are still lots of unknowns, lots of possibilities, and lots of adventures ahead. I’ve found a strong peace in these unknown adventures. I still have no idea how so many pieces will fit together, but I’m determined not to worry about it.

From our homestead to you, happy New Year. May you look back on the blessings you received all year, and look forward with anticipation to the unknowns that lie ahead. And if you haven’t already, I hope you find true time to enjoy the blessings that surround you and find a way to end this weekend refreshed.


Figuring it out

IMG_5909Some people think we are a little bit odd. After all, who really WANTS to move to a farm? In my daily conversations, the most common question I hear is, “How do you know what to do?”  And my answer is always, “I don’t. ” I grew up in the suburbs, as did hubby. He visited a family farm, but beyond that, neither have had any real exposure to farming.

We have spent the past few years learning about growing vegetables, ready lots of books on alternative farming methods, and asked others lots of questions. The wonderful thing about animals is that they are fairly forgiving. As long as you feed them, they don’t talk back about what you didn’t do.

The biggest learning curve with the animals has been the goats. Every farm has a goat, so why not? Of course we have 4, so as usual, I’ve over done the normal. I also had no idea what male goats were like…I mean no idea. The intention is to breed the goats, have some babies, sell off the babies, and have goats milk from the girls. Goats milk has lots of uses around the homestead: milk, soap, cheese, chicken snacks. The breeding process however, had been less than beautiful. I don’t know what I expected when it came to animals breeding, but the goats have helped me realize it’s not pretty. We have tried to integrate the goats over the past few weeks, but none of them really succeeded. Boys ran around chasing the girls, girls wanted nothing to do with the boys, girls broke through the fence and ran up the hill, boys butt heads with each other trying to fight over the girls. Basically it was the equivalent of teenage boys fighting, except with goats.  So we gave up. We figured we would leave the process for another day or another week or whenever we decided to have at it again.

Yesterday when Hubby went down to the Boys barn for their morning feeding, Timmy was gone. Not sure where he ended up he figured he must’ve broken through the fence and would return when the food was there. He was even more surprised when he headed up to the girls barn and found Timmy hanging out inside their locked gate. He would’ve had to broken through an electric fence, gotten into the barn and scaled a 5 1/2 foot wall.

Once again, the lesson on the farm is to just let things be. We keep learning that the more we leave things alone, the more we realize the animals know what to do without our intervention. We are still not really sure what the proper methodology for integrating goats is, but the goats sure know what to do. Today the girls walked willingly down into the pen and everybody was happy to spend the night together in the same place without any breakouts. So maybe now we will get some baby goats.  I guess the animals will help us figure it out.

 

Speed bumps

I am a planner. I like when my schedule is set and known. I make lists. I check off my lists. It makes me happy. I am much better at being flexible then I used to be but it is often still a struggle where I have to remind myself that I am not in control…and that it’s ok.

Having a husband, six kids and a daughter in law, our own business, a farm, and 72 animals, yes my plate is full, as is my heart. It’s a joy and life I could not imagine being any fuller. But simultaneously, my plans, or any hint of plans, have been sufficiently thrown out the window.

Having kids is hard enough, animals add a whole different kind of crazy. They especially don’t care about your plans. Several chickens decided that sleeping in the tree is a better option than the coop. One night one didn’t even come home, we still don’t know where she was, but she returned home the next morning. We created a ramp for the chickens to go to their new much nicer coop but they won’t go in to it.  The girl goats decided to run through the electric fencing IN to the boys pen. Another day the gate was left open and the goats were hanging in the back yard early one morning trying to break a window in the barn. The boy goats got in to a sparring match one day and nearly knocked themselves in to unconsciousness.  We came home to bloodied heads and stumbling goats.  The pigs keep burying their fencing line and escaping from their pasture. I’ve moved the fencing twice and added blockades but they don’t care.  They’ve been meandering through the farm at will, digging craters of what used to be grass wherever they please.  Every day presents a new unexpected challenge that tests me.  None of this was in my plans.

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Although we are striving to live a simpler, more intentional life, being here on the farm doesn’t mean that the realities of the world can’t touch us. In addition to our crazy animals, we have been thrown a number of other unexpected detours this past few weeks too. The old adage of “one day at a time” feels far too long for my weary soul. I’m in the one hour, maybe even one minute, at a time mode. In reflection, I see how many of my plans were changed. But I also see how many opportunities came that I never saw coming. I’ve had to dig deep to find the peace that I know is real. I’ve examined every choice and every action.

My resounding security is that our family, our home, our farm and our animals are where they are supposed to be. While I may not understand why life has thrown me so many detours this week, I’m always searching for the good in the midst. Because you can’t plan everything in life, so sometimes you just need to hang on, and see that maybe those detours have a different purpose.  Perhaps those detours were meant to cause us to slow down, to cause us to look around, to be sure we are where we are supposed to be.  So difficult as it may be, I am trying to embrace our speed bumps, and learn to continue to slow down.

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