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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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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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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Hog Heaven

We have never raised a pig. Living in a house full of bacon lovers, a pig seems like a perfectly acceptable animal to raise so that we can in turn have some pasture raised pork for the brood. Upon the move in, our first project was to begin cleaning out the old “pig barn” so we could plan for the arrival of our two pigs. Two seemed like an acceptable number, just like Noah we said, two of every animal on the homestead.
When you’re the new farmer in town the neighbors take notice.  Add that to the fact that our brood may resemble an episode of Duck Dynasty and people definitely talk.  I’m finding that animal acquisition, actually any farm supply acquisition, is firmly stuck in the “word of mouth” club.  When our new neighbor came over with an offer of two “club pigs” that a friend of a friend had a few extras of, the Hubby happily agreed to move them in to our newly forming pasture.  We set the fencing, the neighbor brings over two pigs, happy homestead.

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The problem here is that I had already been researching a heritage breed pig that we thought would be great additions to the homestead and found a local farmer that was utilizing some natural methodologies… and I had already spoken for two of them.  So maybe we’re doubling Noah now.  Two pigs, four pigs, is there really a difference? My amazing friend, who already does this farming thing well, volunteered to join me on the trek to acquire two Berkshire pigs to add to the mix.  Arriving to this new, much larger farm, we were a bit starry eyed as we took in all the infrastructure that surrounded us.  Again, in my state of constant distraction by all the pretty animals, I briefly heard the gentleman tell us that our two pigs were a female and a castrated male.  Farming life lesson…ask about the sex of your animals BEFORE you show up to buy them.  And then if you’re me, ask again because you may not understand.  I back up my SUV, open the crate, two farm hands load the pigs, I pay, I’m chatting, I’m overwhelmed, the pigs are pooping in the crate, in my car, oh happy day I just bought pigs, homestead here we come.

At the homestead we unload these sweet little piglets.  Mind you they’re 40 pounds each, but yes that’s still small and they’re still sweet.  The new Berks meet our little pink pigs and everyone immediately seems to get along.  Really, four pigs will be great! My friend and I are watching this beautiful interaction of the pigs discovering their new happy pastured home.  None of our pigs have come from pastured upbringings so we’re marveling as these animals discover fresh grass and forage for the first time.

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Suddenly my friend observes something different, something unintended, two little parts that will quickly change the course of the homestead…a lovely, in tact set of testicles!  Yes, somewhere in the talking and distraction and observing and poop, I have managed to overlook that one of the Berkshires was in fact NOT castrated, and is in fact a fully functioning male.  Of course now that we have him home, we know that we can’t send him back, he was meant for us, our little Happy Accident.  Thankfully we have time to prepare, we will have time to separate him from the pink girls, and time to prepare for spring piglets.  So two pigs, four pigs, pregnant pigs, baby piglets, whatever.  We’re here for the natural process of life, we just figured we would ease in to it a little slower,  but it looks like Hank, our Happy Accident, will be quickly helping us create our own hog heaven.

Hank the Pig

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A Boy named Sue

The only animal on our homestead that we raised prior to living here was a chicken (and a dog, but if you know our dog he doesn’t really count).  Our chicken endeavors have been more than traumatic to all of us, and definitely not the idyllic experience you believe will occur when you see some adorable coop on Pinterest.  Please do let those beautiful coops inspire you though.  Chickens are a true joy and one of the easiest endeavors in to knowing where your food comes from.

In preparing for the homestead move we knew that we would need at least a dozen layers in order to keep a steady supply of eggs handy.  Feeding a family of ten is no small task.  When an opportunity to add a few birds to the flock became a reality, I never even asked specific questions, I just planned the pick up and headed over to my friend’s farm.   Of the four birds we got, one was a rooster. With minimal hesitation this new creature came home and the reality of my decision sank in.  For our non chicken owners, it is possible to have an all female flock.  Those girls will lay eggs almost daily, there’s just no fertilization that has occurred, in other words, no baby chickens.  Hubby and I resolved through the consequences of the decision and decided to keep this new young boy who very quickly showed us what his intention in life was.

As the weeks have passed we have grown fond of him.  He’s big, loud, and sleeps in the tree instead of the coop, but his purpose is definite.  He knows his lot in life and he revels in it.  It’s a beautiful process to witness.  Sometime in the future one of the girls will go broody and we’ll let her sit and fulfill another purpose too.  The life cycle process will most likely be filled with joy and sadness as we watch nature take it’s course.  Sometimes you find yourself in a circumstance that is not where you intended.  It is here that you have choices, decisions that can continue or redirect the course.  We weighed the outcome, we know the end result, and we won’t wake up one day and say “How’d I end up with 50 chickens?!”  Our decision is mindful and aware.  We know that when the chickens start hatching next spring it will be the result of a rainy September night…the night I decided to bring home our boy named Sue.

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