Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Out of the Woods

Felicity (the dark one) has normal droppings today!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


One of the new baby goats, Felicity, has scour. I noticed the runny droppings this morning and ran out to get whatever I could find from the feed store. Natural Goat Care calls for a dolomite/copper sulfate drench and not a single feed store of three stocks either.

I got her an electrolyte drench and somehow managed to get about 7cc's into her. Good Lord that's some nasty smelling stuff. They have a new mineral lick placed in their stall and I'm hoping the drench will get her to a point she's interested in food again. I sprinkled some ProBios on their feed to help stimulate the rumen and put out fresh baking soda.

Cross your fingers all goes well. I have a back up B complex bottle and a syringe at the ready while I hunt down the dolomite and copper. I have a feeling that it's a copper deficiency since she was wormed just last week. Now to go look up how to do intramuscular shots on a caprine. YouTube here I come.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Coop D'Jour

A few weeks ago I started a fairly big project. With the addition of fourteen new chickens the lovely A-frame portable chicken tractor we built last fall wasn't going to cut it anymore. I downloaded some instructions that were really more technique guides (which I also paid for -grrrr). There were no measurements, scale drawings or even just a set of instructions which you could modify based on the size coop you needed.

Needless to say, I was quite disappointed and not at a point where I wanted to invest any additional money into plans. So, armed with a few tens and an overall idea of what I wanted, me and the kids headed to the hardware store. I was just about knocked over with lumber prices and for some reason the Lowe's in our area up here only sell cull lumber by the truck load (also including warped and bent bits metals and other non-lumber items. Really people.) so I couldn't use scraps to build it. I headed out to the garden center and the guy out there said he'd sell the broken fence replacement panels half price. Bingo! We have a lumber winner!

I want to take a moment just to clarify how difficult it actual is piecing together a fairly large wooden project with no actual directions or measurements and odd scraps of wood while trying to work in the cold and/or rain and making sure the kids don't kill themselves in the house alone or walking through a construction zone. It's really difficult.

It took three hauls from two different lumber stores to get all the materials I needed at the best possible price. I did have to purchase some things new -a pretreated board for the bottom, straight framing timbers, screws and the roof. Overall, I made a 4x4' coop with 4 to 6' walls and an attached 4x1.5' seperate nest box with hinged lid for roughly $100.

Before hubby helped me level it and fix the door. Not terrible.

Nice and level, rooves are on and lock for the door has been placed.

We used chicken wire that was given to us by my mom with the chicks for the vents and tree limbs harvested from the forest for the perches.

The roof is made of corrugated plexiglass to maximize the light inside the coop. More light = longer laying days.

I used mistinted exterior paint for the coop and chose a light color to help reduce the heat build up inside. Regular price was $27, markdown made it only $5. It took 3/4 of the gallon since the fence panels suck it up tremendously. After these photos were taken I painted the floor, inside of the nest box and about 12" up the sides to repel water and be able to see pests easier.

Overall, I'm pleased with the coop and hope it makes the girls happy enough to give us lots more eggs!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Off Visiting

Yesterday was a busy day. Leeloo and I started off the morning visiting a dog trainer at a park in town. The PetSmart lessons we took her to just didn't really do a whole lot. She can sit. But only when she wants to. She'll come but only when I'm in the kitchen where she knows the treats are. She's a smart dog but still young. Pair that with our inexperience having canines and it's pretty much a disaster.

But we love her, so we'll keep working with her. Her lessons start later this week.

Then I took Max and headed to the city for almond milk, plastic corrugated panels, coffee, collars for the goats, soap, dog food, 1 1/4" screws and toothpaste. I find my grocery list amusing. I find the traffic of the city on the weekends more than annoying.

On my way home I gave a call to Laurie, a shepherdess the next town over that had emailed me earlier. She had lambs being born and wanted to see if I was interested in coming out to talk and see the sheep. I jumped at the opportunity. She has a herd of Gulf Coast Sheep, an endangered species I've talked about here before. These are the sheep we were planning to get for our own flock. They're adapted to Florida's grueling summers which means less worry about heat stroke and parasites.

I immediately fell in love with their Maremma puppy that comes up to my hip and has a thick wide head that looks like a teddy bear. With the coyotes and strays in the area we're going to need one soon. At least that's the excuse I'm using with the hubby.

 Here he is, stealing my heart.

Then we processed a newly born lamb. I watched (and helped in whatever little ways I could) as she weighed the baby, tagged it, docked it's tail and sent it back to it's mama who eyed us warily from the back of the jug. 

Some of the girls are so heavy with babies they look like lemons from head on. By that stage in my own pregnancies I was cranky, bloated and miserable. I can't imagine doing it in the bitter cold with only spindly thin legs to stand on. They too kept their distance while I helped out with some chores.

The crack of the rams horns split the air. They were friendlier than the ewes, the thick curve of horn demanding my respect of them. I happily stayed on my side of the fence.

Visiting the sheep and seeing another farmer's way to doing things has set my heart back on the path towards shepherding.

(since starting this post I got word a set of triplets were born!)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's All In the Egg

One of the easiest, quickest things you can do to up your food intake, lower waste, get free manure and entertainment is to get a flock of backyard birds. The small home flock has taken a huge leap forward recently. Birds living side by side business and commerce. Taking up so little room but giving so much in return.

We've only been co-habiting with chickens for six months but it feels like they've always been around.

But eggs don't come just from chickens; ducks, quail, and geese also give coop contributions. The white egg in the photo is from a duck. A marvelously large thing comprised almost entirely of yolk. The brown came from a free-range bird a few cities over and the blue-green is apparently now the trademark of HeartSong. I find these little treats -only one a day right now- scattered over the backyard. My three girls are still pre-teens in the poultry world. They're still learning what to do when this oblong thing pops out.

To me eggs are a natural thing for us to consume. Hens will lay eggs regardless of a rooster. I've likened it to a woman's menstrual cycle -a process that will happen regardless - which I think actually turned one of my friends vegan. Sometimes I suppose I have that effect on people.

We feed our birds whole grains and scraps of food, all the bugs they can eat and a limited supply of feed to suppliment over the winter when the bugs are scarcer. Their manure currently graces the tops of the upturned future garden plot; the minerals already soaking into the ground.

The unfertilized eggs will rot if not carefully picked up and prepared for another creature's lunch. It's a natural process that doesn't stress the bird, cause it pain or emotional upheaval. It's packed with nutrition and energy and can be used in a variety of ways from breads to breakfasts. After we're done, we bake the shells and feed them back to the birds, continuing the cycle and providing them with protein. There is literally no waste in a backyard

It's a good feeling to be producing something so vital, tending the creatures that provide them with fresh air, good food and lots of loving. Funny, how so much can come from something so little.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

One Year

Dear Life,

It's funny -in an odd sort of way- to recall the path you've meandered during the last twelve months. To see how far you've come, even if it doesn't feel like it sometimes. At the time I remember you still struggling to figure out which way to go. The gorge placed before you that you felt you'd either sail across like a free bird on a thermal or plummet down crushed against the rocks, drowing. Both were frightening ideas. Even just remembering it now, my heart quickens. Perhaps it's because I don't think you've quite made it to the other side.

The year started off with a rabbit. White like a cloud and intimidating as hell set in a cage on a covered porch in the city. Chores were easy and minimal then. In the spring, when the temperature soared close to three digits shaking hands and sharp shears cut virgin swaths of the softest substance known to man. I still have the reaped rewards in a ziplock bag in the closet.

One turned into three and death turned it to two. Another two, another loss and now there are three rabbits growing fat on organic oats and all the hay they can eat. So much was learned. So many mistakes made. Now steady hands will clear away winter coats in the springtime.

We learned to spin last year. The mechanics of turning the hair of animals into long strands of twirled yarn was awe inspiring. Another intimidating thing we quickly overcame. I look forward to warmer weather, a spinningwheel set up on the back deck, as kids run rampant through the yard.

The dog came next. A black and white thing we're still learning to train. But she's a good girl and smart. Sometimes too smart. Getting her working will help, I think.

The summer garden wasn't all we hoped it could have been but now two years of gardening experience grace us. There was something magical about stepping outside and bringing in food for the children. The taste of tomatoes hot from the summer sun is unlike anything else on earth. You can taste sunshine, did you know that? It's rich and pure. It bites into your tongue, radiates down your throat and fills your stomach with more than just food. Amazing stuff, that is. And throughly addictive.

This coming year will see yards and yards of garden and hours and hours of work. Square feet turn into percentages of acreage. But I look foward to it and my tongue can hardly wait for it's reward.

With rabbitry under our belts we expanded in the fall to include a handful of chickens. The weeks those puff balls sat on the freezer in the laundry room was both exasperating and exciting. A chicken coop was built and we learned how to free range and what that really meant. By the end of the year and help from family, four turned into eighteen. This year we're reaping the rewards of our backyard flock. A crate nearly full of small blue-green eggs with yolks the color of ripe Florida citrus are piled in the fridge next to the carcass of one of the four chicks from the fall.

But those things don't really add up to the leap we wanted. The leap we needed even though it was still so scary to think about and kept me up late nights with a head full of worry and doubt. The final act of the year was our move North. To land larger many times over than our small city home. To a house moved in on trucks and not the century old home filled with other people's memories. To a place filled with the safety of the woods and the wild danger of it.

This new year has already started out with a bang. Goats in the barn, draft horses working the field. Friends in neighbors and annoiance of seclusion. Early mornings and long days and the appreciation of working in my own farm and not a fantasy one online. This year we're doing, being, learning and bleeding out every drop of life we can from these next twelve months. Living with the motion of the seasons as Life carries us onward. Making food and friends and love. We might not be leaping, or flying or taking a plunge but we might just be building a bridge.

Forever yours,


Sunday, January 16, 2011


The baby goats are coming home tomorrow morning!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Horse Power

I have big garden plans this year. Big ones. Last year my city plot was 8x16' with a few potted citrus and figs on the side. I got a few things harvested. Nothing much really in the grand scale of feeding seven people but what I did get was nourishing and satisfying in a way that is hard to describe in words.

Now that we're on a fair bit of land, I want more. This years garden plot is a whopping fifty by one hundred and fifty feet. Yep, it's big.

The land has never had a garden or animals on it. Other than being cleared, we have vast amounts of virgin dirt. The only problems were the thick hay-grass-weeds that are on it and what type of dirt we're actually dealing with. You see, there are bare places of dirt but it is mostly sand. Not the greatest gardening medium.

To tackle the first issue I needed to get the land torn up, the grasses cut to managable pieces. Once I could get to the dirt, I could then assess it. I asked the neighbors and had the prospect of one being able to do it with a tractor for a reasonable fee but they had to get back to me. In the meantime I posted an ad on Craigslist asking for tilling or plowing my garden for a modest price. The goal of the garden is to inexpensively feed our family this coming year, not go broke doing it.

While I was waiting for the neighbor the stars aligned and I got an email from my Craigslist post from a guy named Blake. After the first few sentences my face was split with an uncontrollable grin and really hasn't left since.

Blake wanted to bring his team of Belgain horses over to till my garden.

Some of you may not understand the enormity of the above sentence. The rest of you are scrolling down for the photos and opening up a new page to search for Horse Powered Plowmen in your area.


The disc thing (apologies for my lack of plowman speak)

On the field.

While hiring the neighbor and his overpowered gasoline gobbling tractor might have been easier and quicker, there is just something about seeing these gorgeous giants doing what they were made to do. Something in my heart sings true to support those still keeping alive what our ancestor's utilized. We have tumbled the idea of having our own horse power at the farm but as of right now it's just not viable. It is sad to think that so few people will ever be able to experience the quiet sounds of horse driven farm work. The tinkling of chains. The breathy snorts on a cold winter day. The plowman's commands as they walk the fields.

Blake and his team did a fantastic job on our garden and will come back out in a couple weeks when the grass has died to run over it again. I can't wait to see them again.

Blake's Horse Power is located in Northern Florida near the GA border. You can Like their Facebook page Here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Of Chickens.

There is so much going on at the farm right now that involves poultry. It's funny because we're not really a "farm" yet. We're getting there, working towards it but there is a long way to go.

I'm currently in the process of building a 4x4' coop with an attached nesting box. Cross your fingers it's doesn't come out completely widdershins. I'm trying my best here but I'm doing it solo. I'm utilizing scraps and broken fence boards (the replacement privacy fence boards that get damaged or broken that the hardware store sells half price). So far I have a completed floor, 1 wall and most of 2 additional walls. I did purchase new lumber for the floor skids and framing but so far we're at a total of about forty dollars.

The fourteen chicks have been moved out to the barn in the goat's stall. They're doing fine so far with their heat lamp and many bodies to snuggle against.  The only complaint I have is that they go through feed like no one's business. We're needing to get another fifty pound bag and it's only been three weeks.

In other chicken news we got our first egg Friday night. It was tiny and blue-green and absolutely beautiful.

Saturday morning I took Coco to a local farm and had him slaughtered. It was a jarring experience for me. Remember now, I'm a city girl used to chicken unrecognizable from it's feathered beginnings. I had raised Coco since he was just a tiny puff ball of a chick so small I could close my hand all the way around him. It was -and still is- unsettling for me to have literally felt the void where his life had been only moments before his head came off. It was done quickly and resepectfully and I'd like to think he only had the one bad day in his five months of life. But I still haven't been able to bring myself to cook him and eat him. The scenes from the day keep flashing before my eyes when I see his saran wrapped carcass.

I'm avoiding the freezer right now.

One thing that I now realize that Coco had on his rooster duty roster was keeping the turkey vultures away. Yesterday morning I came out to see more than half a dozen of these giant birds perched on the barn. Another dozen were circling. They're the size of my dog. With a six foot wingspan.

Thankfully, they don't like people or dogs. So, Leeloo got barn duty for the rest of the day.

She was pretty happy with that. Working dogs need work. I think we're going to move her run over towards the barn as soon as we can manage it. I'm sure out of the brooding chicks we'll get quite a few rooster candidates. I'll test drive them to see who gets the position. Roosters aren't bad. They're good at keeping the chickens safe and mating them but they do have agressive tendancies. Some breeds more than others, some roosters are jerkier than some. Kinda like people in that respect.

I don't know what my chicken future holds. I know that while I can give them a good life, I can also give them a good death. Could I do it myself? I don't think I could. Could I help? Probably not. Does that mean that I will cease to eat chicken? I'm not sure yet. I have to discover if I feel that ensuring a happy and healthy life with a humane and respectful slaughter with minimal stress and pain that I am not present for is acceptable to me and my beliefs.

Friday, January 7, 2011


On Thursdays down in town they have a weekly farmer's market. Pretty colored tents get set up and the locals bring their wares. I've seen the signs before but yesterday was the first time I ventured down to check it out. There were perhaps just over a dozen booths set up with everything from fresh produce to handmade jewelry. There were even some fruit and nut trees and mushroom logs being sold.

I came away with apples, pears, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, eggs, strawberries, lettuce and broccoli plants and two loaves of freshly baked bread. I met a farmer gal that had pulled up the carrots and other treats just that morning, it was amazing to see one of her gardens nestled in the town between the police station and the funeral home. She literally walked the carrots over about fifty feet and sold them to me still dirty from growing. My smile was a permanant fixture.

There are a few things I noticed though, after the sparkle of the market wore off. The pears -while grown in the US- were trucked in. The bread was made with canola oil, not the end of the world but not what I would have done had I made it myself. The differences were merely standards.

Years ago, I would have taken a loaf of homemade bread and thought I was making a huge difference in the world. My standard of homemade was higher than my standard of ingredients. If homesteading has taught me anything these last few years it is that I am always learning. My standards are constantly changing. Right now, I'm evolving my standards of food to the 100 mile diet and have high hopes of producing 95-99% of my produce, chicken, eggs, and dairy products within the next 12-18 months, like these guys. With our mild winters and prolonged growing season, add in a greenhouse and it's not all that far fetched. The goats are on their way already.

Watching movies like "The Future of Food", "Food, Inc." and "Supersize Me" have helped me develop my sense of standards. I want good food. I want nutrient dense food. I want food that doesn't harm my body or the environment or has been mutated into substances that are molecularly non-food. While I'm not always perfect, I am trying. I still have a terrible sweet tooth and much of the time my budget doesn't stretch enough to cover all organic foods.

But I want to be better and I think that's a pretty good standard.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year, New Beginnings

The chicks in the bathroom have been escaping their cardboard homes. It's a bit startling to open the door or step out of the shower and have a curious little animal standing before you with it's head tilted wondering what the heck you're doing. And then poop all over the floor. I have decided that December is not a great month to buy chicks.

With the goats back with their momma's for a few weeks we have a free stall to brood the baby birds. We have to keep them away from Coco until he's dispatched. He doesn't seem to like intruders in his domain. We modified the gate with chicken wire and hung heat lamps from a pvc pole. The temps are beginning to dip again after a moderate week last week. I'm worried about them out there but free ranging in the bathtub isn't ideal either.

They seemed to do well last night, only the biggest, most feathered birds went out. The five Americaunas are still in a box in the bathroom but they're still so little escape isn't really an option right now. The Red Broilers are supposed to get near up to six pounds by sixty three days.

Coco still hasn't been slaughtered. I think we're both still working up the nerve. Neither of us has taken a life before and we've only been chicken farmers since August. Plus, Coco scares us. He stomps around the yard, stalking and making noises. He rushed me yesterday and I kicked a bucket at him (which didn't hit and didn't phase his attack) and then threw a gate to get away. He's much smaller than me but commands much feared respect. I'm refusing to defrost the chicken in the freezer until we do it though. Just seems wrong, somehow. But I think his dictatorship is causing stress in the girls which is why we haven't seen a single egg yet. We have bought a small piece of sheet metal to make a kill cone from and we've been researching techniques online. We're working up, just a bit slowly. (on a side note, if anyone lives near or around Gainesville and wants to come show us how to do this, we'd be much obliged.)

Yesterday, my neighbor's dog broke out and came for a visit, when I brought him back I asked if anyone in the area had a plow and might want to help me dig up some ground for a garden. I came back home with two names and a little hope. The first neighbor's tractor wasn't working good so I asked the second and I'm still waiting for the wife to ask the husband and get back to me. A plow would save me a lot of work, the grass here is stubborn and thick and while I'd get a great work out pulling it up by hand, I wouldn't have the engery after to actually plant anything. But the seeds are waiting.

 And so am I.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bye Bye Babies

It's important to know when you've stepped in over your head and need help getting a breath above the water line. After numerous calls back and forth from the goat breeder we both decided the babies would be better off back at their farm with their moms for a few weeks longer.

It's not "good-bye", it's just "see ya later". But I'm still sad over it.

Truth is, Buttercup just wouldn't take the milk. I watched You-Tube videos, looked up multiple bottle feeding techniques and even tried coaxing her to my side with rasins. Nothing worked. She choked and gagged herself on the milk until she was coughing.

That's not good for either of us.

The breeder wasn't milking Buttercup or Westley's mom so reuniting them wouldn't be a loss to them milk-wise. Goats are social beings, keeping the buck alone for weeks wouldn't be good for his sanity. So back they both went. They were both quiet on the few minute drive but as soon as I pulled into the driveway Buttercup started bleating like she was on fire, she knew she was home and mama was close. On the way to the goat pens her mother heard her and added her own mournful cries to the baby's. She jumped through the fence as soon as she was able and started suckling her mom with her tail wagging so hard she was shifting her back legs.

I never knew goats wagged their tails when happy; like a dog. I smiled, knowing I had done the right thing.

Westley was another story. His mama bucked him off the teat and walked away from her crying baby. My heart sank like a rock in a pond. He tried again. And again she knocked him off and this time butted him away. My throat tightened up and I swallowed hard. My mind raced with solutions if she shunned him. Then Westley's twin brother came over to greet him, he had been across the field playing with the other babies. He smelled his brother and latched on to his mama for a snack. Westley grabbed the opportunity and the other teat. Mama sniffed him and my body stiffened waiting for the emminent rejection and then, she let him be.

I waited around to make sure the does would continue to accept their babies. Buttercup seemed glued to her mama's side, strutting around the barnyard pleased as punch. Westley took to exploring seeking his mom for a quick drink whenever the need arose. We talked about the herd I wanted to establish, I checked out a new baby doe and we walked the fields talking goats and soaking up the peacefulness of the beasts.

In a few weeks I'll be able to bring them back home. The breeders invited me to come back as much as I wanted so they remember me and said I could come lend a hand during worming and hoof trimming. There are a few more girls expecting and if the timing works out they'll call me to visit then and see what it's all about.  If I had bought the goats from the dairy farm like I had initially planned I wouldn't have had the resources when bottle feeding didn't work out. I wouldn't have the possibility of hands-on learning as I do now.

There's a lesson here about livestock and farming that I'm glad I've learned. Meet your farmers, befriend them. Lend a hand when you're able and don't let your pride blacken your inexperience or ignorance until you can't see the problems anymore.