Winter Chickens

We have now been here on the farm for a year and a half.  It has been a challenge at every turn for us as new farmers.  It seems even when I think we’re starting to get good at something, a new problem will present itself.  We are now on our 5th batch of meat chickens and this batch has been a struggle since the beginning.  As it turns out, there is a season for everything and Winter is NOT the season for raising chickens.  We will not be doing this again for a multitude of reasons and here’s why:

  1. RATS.  Rats were a problem for us last winter when we lost several litters of newborn bunnies to either the rats themselves or to neglect from spooked mother rabbits as a result of the rats.  Our barn cats seem to have solved that problem for us since we have not had any more problems at the barn.  Unfortunately as the weather turned cold and wild food became scarce, the local rat population discovered the chick brooder.  We raised over 100 chicks in the brooder during Spring and Summer without a problem, but our chicks delivered in early October were killed by rats when they were a week old.  ALL 52 of them…in ONE night.  The rats didn’t even eat a single one.  They must’ve grabbed them one by one as they tried to take them back to the den and failed to get them out.  It was a heartbreaking sight for me the next morning, that’s for sure.  The dead chicks went into the freezer immediately and were used to supplement the barn cats’ diet over the next couple months.  We couldn’t just give up on raising another batch since we had already committed over 30 chickens to our Winter CSA as well as been approved to sell chicken at the Fall farmer’s market.  So we ordered more chicks.  However, the rat massacre set us back 3 weeks and $147.00 ($142 for the chicks and $5 for the food they ate during the week we had them).  We also had to invest another $12 in a roll of wire to cover the top of the brooder so the rats couldn’t get back in.
  2. MUD.  We went through a drought this Fall and when it finally ended, the rain just kept coming.  It was during this rainy time that the chicks got big enough to leave the brooder and go into the chicken tractor.  During the Spring and Summer, being in the chicken tractor is a great life for a meat chicken.  They get to eat fresh grass, bugs, and breathe in the fresh mountain air.  In winter, there is not much fresh grass to be had, especially since much of what was there at the end of the Summer was dug up to put in our new Septic lines or died during the drought.  So when we put the chicks out the field was mostly mud.  We knew it wasn’t ideal, but they were starting to get too crowded in the brooder so we didn’t have much of a choice.  Half the tractor is covered, so the birds had shelter and TS stacked some bales of straw at the end to provide additional insulation from wind.  They did okay for the first week but by the following week there was nothing but mud in the tractor.  These Cornish-cross meat chickens are not very smart at all and would pile into their water bowl to drink and get themselves soaking wet and muddy.  We lost a few chicks one cold night and I attributed it to them being cold and wet.  I put down some straw as bedding to get the chicks off the mud, so they could hopefully dry off.
  3. TRAVEL.  We usually don’t travel, but we decided to make a trip to Atlanta to visit my family just a few days after Christmas.  We have a wonderful friend who came by to take care of things while we were gone.  The last morning she called to tell me a few more of the meat chicks were dead.  When we got home late that afternoon I immediately cleaned out the tractor.  The straw I had put down had already been covered in mud/poop in the 3 days we’d been gone, so we ended up losing another 7 chicks during that time.  I don’t at all blame our friend – she did a great job of taking care of things.  But had I been there I could have added more bedding or moved the tractor sooner.  We put 20 of the remaining chicks back in the brooder.  The brooder has a center partition so there are 10 chicks on each side and it seems like they have plenty of room.  We left the other 19 chicks in the tractor with fresh straw bedding and still lost another one that night.  The next morning we moved the tractor out of the field and into our front yard where we still have some green grass.  We have moved it every few days, given them a tray full of wood shavings so they can get completely off the ground if needed, and covered the whole tractor with a tarp. It has been a week since then and so far we have not lost another (knock-on-wood).
  4. COLD.  The cold is mostly just an inconvenience.  It seems that as long as we keep the chicks dry, the cold doesn’t bother them.  But it does bother us people that take care of them since we have to make sure they have water even in freezing temperatures.  Most mornings I have to break ice out of the water bowl before filling it with warm water from the house.  Some days we have to do that a few times during the day as well.  Multiply that by 3 because this batch of meat chicks is now divided into 3 groups housed separately.  It’s a lot of extra work.  I am also not looking forward to butchering these guys in the cold.
  5. COST.  This batch has cost us so much more money than it should have.  We had the losses from the rats, the losses from the cold/wet, and the expense of extra bedding and extra heat for the brooder.  If we butcher the remaining 39 in a week (I hope they will be ready then!) we will have spent $205.50 on food, $35 on bedding, $142 on the chicks themselves, $147 for our rat-killed chicks that must be accounted for, and $30 for heat.  That’s $559.50 for 39 chickens or $14.34 each:  $4 per lb for a 3.5 lb chicken.  In comparison, our previous batch only cost us about $7 each:  $2 per pound.  We should break even on the ones we sell and are paying twice what we usually would for the ones we eat ourselves, NOT accounting for all the work we put into them.

So there you go.  If you are thinking of raising chicks in the winter, just don’t.  Or at least plan for them to be housed in a rat-proof indoor facility.  Or just don’t.  We will definitely not be doing this again even if it means we raise bigger batches of chicks non-stop through the Spring and Summer!

–Lori

 

Living in the Present

So as I look through the last posts, I see that it truly has been a while since the last post by me, TS. I have noticed that I tend to store up the creative thoughts in my head like a hoarder when I really need to put them to keyboard. Oh well, things have been super busy and by the end of the day I just want some peace and quiet in my head. On that note… I have the utmost respect for all the stay-at-home parents in this world!! This is not a job for the faint at heart by ANY means. Some days it feels like we are running a circus instead of a farm.

Update on the family. The kids are doing well and by that I mean we are all still alive. Haven likes kindergarten well enough but hates that he is forced to take naps every day (this is handed down as a direct order from the state board of education.) He stopped napping when he was two! Thank goodness this is not pushed past Christmas break and hopefully the rest of the school year will be more appealing to him. He has made many friends at school and has also formed a strong bond with a girl in his class who is now his best friend. Kids are so cute! Skylar is doing well but would be much happier I think with more interaction with kids. She just turned four so kindergarten is a ways off but maybe pre-school next Fall. Sometimes when I see her with our friends’ kids her age, I see my mother in her. She is very fond of toy animals, taking pictures with our old camera, and roaring. Every day we are blessed with a new pet as she explores her connection to the animals of the world. Quite often she is a kitty that wants to protect her pretend kittens, or a velociraptor, but every blue moon she will grace us with a unicorn or some magical creature form storyland. They both are just like any other kids. Lots of energy and very headstrong. When together though they often are like oil and water. Wait, more like nitric acid and glycerol. It sometimes reminds me of a classic duel of the 1600s the way they fight. A parry here, a thrust there… then I have to take away the kitchen knives. Just kidding. One day they will each understand that the other was not placed here as the sole torment of them. One day they will be a team. And I hope to not be on the wrong side of that team.

Lori and I are well too. Stressed and layered thin, but well. We have been just about nonstop action since before we arrived here on the farm. That’s almost 6 seasons in farm-speak. There is a reason that Winter arrives when it does too. The previous 3 seasons can kill you. Take this time nature says… Reboot and reassess your goals. We just said to hell with it last Winter and pushed on through! This Winter, I hope to listen to and abide by Mother Nature. I need, we all need some time.

Animals update. We have over 150 animals at this exact moment. Nothing new, but just an expanded version of the farm. We are raising meat chickens for a Winter CSA, and to be prepared going into Spring market. Our flock of layers has grown to try and increase egg sales through the cold days. Our guineas are thriving and we have successfully raised several groups of keats. Our rabbits have had some ups and downs this year, but they are safe with the barn cats so can’t complain there. We sell about 5-6 rabbits on market Saturdays and look to grown that in the Spring, as well as chicken and egg sales. Cloud the behemoth is doing well and seems to be healthy this year with her skin. Last year she had massive itchy hotspots and we thought it was either chicken allergy or dry heat. Looks like chicken was the culprit. Kitten is still with us but spends all of her time in our bedroom. Not a farm cat by any stretch of the imagination but always very loving at bedtime.

We have had a lot of deer in the fields this year. 2 less than before the Fall started though as I have had success with my Strother compound bow. They have been feeding very well on our strawberry plants, local tomatoes, and cabbage so they are very healthy targets that help feed our family. We also had a stray horse show up one night looking to graze our yard, but thankfully Lori was not able to catch it or lead it into our barn… even though she tried for 30 minutes. No bear sightings on the property. No weasel signs since we lost the ducks. I did trap a possum but released over the other side of the mountain. Rats are a constant problem, but we are working to contain the ongoing issue.

So to be honest, I have this story building for a book I want to write. It is probably the reason I have not wanted to blog. My mind hasn’t been able to concentrate well while trying to put my thoughts down. I drift away sometimes building the back story and reasoning of the future world we may find ourselves living within, and the status of recent worldly events has also been weighing heavy on my heart and mind as I try to understand the implications of our future as a species. The confluence of those two rivers of thought have really helped me focus on refining my actual opinions of life, time, and impact. I think I always avoided forming real opinions before. Whether from fear of judgment or maybe just lack of introspection. I watched in real time as things happened around me, but never processed the reality. I watched the towers fall but failed to fully understand what that event meant for our future. I watched as greed took over conscious thought before the housing market collapsed, but never fully embraced what the long-term consequences were to the everyday people of this country. I watched myself lose the “self” aspect every day. I watched the world at every step. I watched from afar.

I act now. I try to act every day now to understand or make a difference where I can. Every action has a reaction as Newton stated, and that applies to belief as well. Where there is no action, there is no belief. Where there is no belief, there is no hope. No hope, no love. Time here at the farm has made me a believer in love. Not that silly idea of love that teenagers think of as lasting unscathed and influenced by the stars. No not that. I refer to the love that breaks down barriers between people of all perspectives. Love that humbles and love that shows the fragility of life. It’s all around us if we choose to accept it, but we must also accept the need for action on its behalf. I act in the name of love and for that, I have hope and belief to boot.

I hope to anyone reading this that you find some way to take action in the upcoming year in the name of love. Act on behalf of someone who can’t. Act out of sincerity. Act now, while you can make a difference however small. A happy 2017 to everyone. May peace prevail.

T.S.

Old Timey Learning: Making Soap

When we were first planning our big move, I had soap-making in my mental list of things I wanted to learn.  I’m not sure why exactly.  Soap and it’s cousins shampoo, body gel, and lotion had not been high on my list of priorities since the Bath & Body Works craze of 1995.  I didn’t know much about soap-making, other than what I learned from watching “Fight Club” about a hundred times throughout my 14 years spent with TS.  It’s one of his favorite movies and after I’d seen it a couple times I mostly quit paying attention to it when he’d turn it on.  It was only in the last couple years that I came to appreciate the anti-consumerism sentiment as well as some of the other themes behind the fighting.  Anyhow, sometime during the end of our first long winter here I started learning to make soap.  I’m still learning.

Soap is made when a chemical reaction occurs between a fat and sodium hydroxide (lye).  That chemical process is called saponification and if you have the proper proportion of lye and fat all the lye is used up in the saponification and none remains in the finished soap.  This is important because lye is caustic!  It will burn your skin, as will soap that isn’t fully saponified.  In the old timey days, whoever made soap (which was at least someone in every family) would take lye made from wood ashes and combine it with rendered lard leftover from cooking.  While I do render my own lard/tallow, I have yet to try to make soap with it.  I have been using a variety of vegetable oils and nut butters, mainly coconut oil, palm oil, castor oil, and shea butter.  I purchase my sodium hydroxide online because I have zero interest in trying to make it from wood ashes.  I need a more mathematically predictable process.  Yes, soap-making involves math.  Each type of fat, oil, nut butter, and the like have a different “saponification value” which is the amount of lye needed to convert it to soap.  So what you do when you create a soap recipe is decide the percentages of each ingredient you are going to use, multiply them by the sap value of each, and add it up to arrive at the amount of lye you need.  Even though I do somehow remember enough middle-school-math to do this, it is way quicker and easier to use an online lye calculator.  It’s also safer because a small error in math could mean lye-heavy caustic soap or superfatted soap that will go rancid.  A small percentage of extra fat can be good for your soap, so you can also adjust the superfat level using your lye calculator or middle-school-math.

Once you have your recipe ready and safety gear on, you mix your powdered sodium hydroxide with water.  Most recipes say to use distilled, but I’ve had great results with our tap water which comes from our mountain-spring-fed well.  The mixture will heat up due to a chemical reaction between the sodium hydroxide and water, which is at that point called lye.  While it’s cooling you weigh out your other ingredients, melt them down, and then let that cool a bit.  When both the lye and the oils are around 95 degrees, you mix them together using a constant whipping or a stand-mixer or stick blender until the mixture starts to thicken and then pour it into a mold.  It takes around 24 hours for it to get hard enough to turn out of the mold and cut and then the soap needs another 4+ weeks to dry to be fully cured and ready for use.  It sounds easy and it sort of is, except that any tiny thing can go wrong and ruin the soap.  Measurements can be off, the temperature can be wrong, the mixing may not end up complete, etc.  It takes time and practice.  My first batch came out of the mold a crumbly mushy lye-heavy mess.  I’m not sure what I did wrong, but it was bad.  My second batch turned out okay.  The third batch was squishy.  It took a lot of trial and error and recipe-tweaking to produce consistently good soap.   I’ve made 1-4 batches of soap per week in the months since and I still have an occasional soap fail.  My most recent fail was gray and off-smelling and looked like concrete.  But most of the time I get nice results and I really enjoy the process.

What do I do with all this soap?  Two things: we use it, gift it, and sell it.  We always have a bar by the bathroom sink and a few in the shower.  The kids love to pick out their own bar of soap from the drying rack.  I have gifted many soaps to family and friends who have visited in the past few months.  I also sell it at farmers’ markets.  I first sold it at the market here in Burnsville (along with my homemade bread) until the board determined that soap and bread (among other things we were selling) were already “covered by other vendors” and therefore no longer allowed.  I tried a market in the neighboring town of Spruce Pine, but the small clientele were mostly only interested in produce and the hours didn’t work well for my schedule.  Then I found out about a new farmers’ market starting up in Erwin, TN.  We are only a few miles from the NC/TN border and Erwin is not far past that.  So I joined the Erwin market and sales were good enough that I went every week up until the last couple weeks of October when it started getting cold and dark earlier and the market slowed down dramatically.  I’m excited to be going back when it starts up next Spring.  My experience with Erwin has been great!  The group of people who started and run the market are super nice and welcoming, as are the people of Erwin in general.  I sold a bunch of soap, lotion, lip balms, and salves and got some regular customers.

Now that the farmers’ market is done for the year I have a couple events lined up in Burnsville.  I’ll be vending at the Christmas Ornament Craft Festival on November 19th and the Christmas Extravaganza on the 26th, both at Burnsville Town Center.  I’m really looking forward to selling soaps here in town!  Hopefully sometime soon I will also have an online store set up so I can sell my soaps to non-locals.  I’ll share my online store as soon as I get it up and running.  If you want to buy some now, email me at serendipityfarmnc@yahoo.com.  At some point I’ll have to write another post about making LIQUID soap.  It’s a much more complicated process and my first attempt boiled out of the pot so fast it covered the floor with a hot caustic soup before I could get it under control.  Thank goodness for rubber gloves – safety first!

Lori

Fry Pan Bargain

We have now raised and butchered 3 batches of meat chickens and have another batch in the brooder.  I did an in-depth cost analysis for the first batch which I posted here: MEAT CHICKENS  Unfortunately I did not keep quite as detailed records for the next 2 batches, but I’m going to use what I do have to compare them as best as I can.

Our 2nd batch was much like the first.  We ordered Rainbow Ranger chicks from Meyer Hatchery, which are basically the same thing as the Red Ranger chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery.  Since we saw a marked difference in carcass weight between the male and female Red Rangers, I bought just males this time.  I ordered 25 at $2.56 each plus $14.99 shipping.  I chose not to vaccinate them this time.  It seemed like a waste to vaccinate chicks that were going to live in a fairly controlled environment and be in the freezer in just a few months.  We did get 2 extra chicks with our order, so the total purchase was $78.99 for 27 chicks or $2.92 each.  That’s a $.68 less per chick than our first batch.

With our first batch we used a 250-watt heat lamp which used a lot of energy.  My estimated cost for energy for the heat lamp was $42 for 6 weeks, or $1.17 per chick for that batch.  I was excited to discover an alternative to the heat lamp – the Premier One Heat plate shown here:  https://www.premier1supplies.com/p/heating-plates-and-covers?cat_id=226  It was pricey, but uses about 1/3 of the power and is much safer!  Heat lamps have been known to catch fire and burn down homes and barns, so it was well worth the price for the peace of mind and energy savings.  We also did not have to have the heat on for the chicks full time since the weather was warmer.  The heat plate was on constantly for only the first 2 weeks.  After that we ran it only at night for another 3 weeks.  So it only cost about $7.00 to keep the chicks warm, which is a $35 savings for this batch.  We had our laying breed chicks and meat breed chicks all in the brooder together (total of 52!) and still used just one bag of shavings for bedding at $5.  Price per meat chick for heat and bedding was only $.23!

Starting cost:

Batch 1: $4.91/chick, Batch 2: $3.15/chick, savings of $1.76 per chick!

These chicks had the same crazy appetites as the first batch, and ate the same amount of food except that half of them had an extra week to grow just because we were crazy busy this Summer and didn’t get all the butchering done right on schedule.  I’m estimating the number of bags of food we went through based on the numbers from the first batch.  We did however use a combination of the natural feed from Tractor Supply at $17 per bag and non-GMO, non-Soy feed from our local co-op $18 per bag.  Two chickens died at about 8 weeks old, so our feed price per chick that made it to butcher is for total of 26 chicks.

$90.00 for 5 bags non-gmo feed (18.00)

$154.00 for 8 bags all natural feed (17.99 + tax)

Total feed cost: $244/26 = $9.38 per chick

$3.15 starting cost plus $9.38 to feed = $12.53 per chicken

Divide that by an average weight of 4.33lbs and our price per pound of meat comes out to $2.89 per pound!  That’s much better than the $3.45-4.05 per pound price for our first batch!!!  We saved money on the chicks, the heat, the feed, and came out with more meat because we raised all males and didn’t butcher any early.  It was a really successful batch.

For the 3rd batch, I wanted to try something different.  I believe I wrote at some point about how the Ranger chicks are so different that the laying-breed chicks.  All they do is eat desperately and they don’t seem to act like regular chickens.  I felt bad for them.  Part of the reason we are raising our own meat is to ensure that the animals have a decent life before they become our food.  So I decided we would try some heavy-breed chickens that were traditionally raised as dual-purpose (meat and eggs) chickens before commercial meat chicken operations came into existence.  We ordered what’s called the “Fry Pan Bargain” from Meyer Hatchery.  It’s an assortment of heavy-breed roosters at a bargain price.  They do not get as large as the Ranger chickens and they take longer to reach butchering size, but they consume a lot less food.  Here are our costs for that batch:

The chicks themselves truly were a bargain at only $.60 each!!!  Again I did not have them vaccinated.  We ordered 26 chicks and received 28, and our price per chick including shipping was only $1.12!!!  The heat cost and bedding cost were the same at $.23 each.  We didn’t lose any chicks after losing one the first week.  We used exclusively the Tractor Supply natural feed cause we missed the ordering deadline for the co-op.  We butchered these chickens at about 18-19 weeks old.  They did eat a lot less, they did act like real chickens, and they need longer to grow.  Our assortment consisted of Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Australorpe, and a single Blue Ameraucana.

Total starting costs $1.35

12 total bags of Tractor Supply natural feed $231 comes out to $8.55 per chick

Total cost per chicken $9.90!

They did butcher out at lower weights than the Rangers, even with the extra few weeks of growth.  Our average weight per dressed-out chicken was only 2.5 pounds.  That brings our price per pound to $3.96 which is at the higher end of what we paid the first time.  However, these guys seemed like a lot more work because we had to feed them and water them and move their tractor daily for an extra 6 weeks.  They also had a lower percentage of breast meat which is what our family would prefer to eat the most of.  Plus butchering was just as much work, but for less meat.  Labor “costs” were higher for this batch.  And since they act like real chickens and grew up more they had started crowing and scrapping with each other a little in the last few weeks.  Overall the Fry Pan Bargain was not a bargain for us.  Perhaps if we raised them free-range and they were able to forage enough to cut down further on feed costs it would be worth it, but that’s not an option for us with our current set-up.  However, one advantage to this batch was that we actually ended up with a few laying hens!  We got 4 females by accident!  One Australorpe, 2 Barred Rocks, and the single Blue Ameraucana are all hens.  The Ranger females weren’t worth keeping because they ate so much food so they were really just a meat breed.  But getting a few female dual-purpose chicks is like getting a bonus!  We moved them to the barn to join the laying flock as soon as we started suspecting they were hens and they are now very close to laying age.  If I were to sell them now I could probably get $15-20 each for them.  Because we got those extra hens, I was able to sell more of our laying breed pullets than I initially had planned.  If I take that into account as part of the value of the Fry Pan Bargain, it would bring the price per pound down enough to make this batch totally worth it.  However, since I wouldn’t want to count on getting a “bonus” again, we will probably not order the Fry Pan Bargain again.  It was just too much more work and didn’t save us any money.  I can be okay with the not-quite-fully-chicken-acting Rangers.

We are now a couple of weeks into our 4th batch of meat chickens, this time the CornishX Franken-chickens!  I am very curious to see how our numbers turn out with these fast-growing-eating-machines.

 

 

 

Farm Products – Fall/Winter 2016

Rabbit – We have rabbit meat for sale! We are at the Yancey County Farmers Market most Saturdays or you can purchase from us right here at the farm. Email Lori for details serendipityfarmnc@yahoo.com $5 per pound whole and $6 per pound quartered. Rabbits range in size from close to 2 pounds to over 3 pounds. Never cooked rabbit before? We have recipes and tips to help!

Chicken – Our newest batch of chickens is mostly reserved for our CSA members, but we should have a few extra. Email to reserve one or join our CSA!

Eggs – available fresh daily from the farm, $4 per dozen

Fiber – beautiful and soft angora rabbit fiber available by the ounce $8.00

Handmade Soaps – available at the Erwin, TN Farmers Market every Tuesday evening, Hall’s Hill Farm Store in Newland, NC or purchase here at the farm $4.50 each or 2 for $8.00. Lotions, lip balms, and sugar scrubs also available!

Top 10 Things I’ve Learned Our First Year

It is hard to believe we have been here an entire year.  I remember when we made the decision to “head for the hills” back at the very end of 2014 it seemed like each step took forever.  Getting home repairs done, selling/donating half of our possessions, selling the house, finding the farm, packing, moving, hanging out at my mom’s house in Atlanta while waiting and waiting and waiting to close on the new house…all of these things were part of the process that now seem like distant memories.  It’s been a crazy first year here on our little farm in Appalachia.  These are the top 10 things I have learned:

10.  Kids are adaptable.

Our two kids are now almost-6 and almost-4.  They have adapted to farm life amazingly well.  HS still misses his friends in Auburn and talks about a few of them occasionally.  He still talks about going back to Auburn to marry a certain girl from his preschool class.  Both kids occasionally ask about their friend who lived next door to us at the time.  But they both accepted the changes to their lives enthusiastically.  Our daily routine, the places we went, the home we lived in, people we saw…  those few constants in their lives all changed at once.  I know that was hard for me even though I knew and understood the reasons behind it all.  I am so proud of how well these kids not only accepted the changes but also kept their enthusiasm about it all.

9.  Living as a family of 4 in 816 square feet isn’t that bad.

Really.  It seemed nuts at first to go from a 2600 sqft house to a 816 sqft house.  But really when we started paring things down, we found that there was a lot that wasn’t too hard to let go of.  We are actually still decluttering and letting go of possessions that have no physical or metaphorical place here.  Visually this house is a lot more FULL than we’d like, even when all the toys are picked up and all the dishes are washed.  (Have I mentioned we do not have a dishwasher?)  TS and I have a shared love of interior decorating that is very modern and minimalist which is NOT currently a reality for this house.  But this house is plenty big enough for us and what we need and we do not have any plans to add onto the house at this time.

8.  Predators like chicken too.

Chicken is yummy.  I don’t think I know anyone who eats meat that does not like chicken.  Predators know how yummy chicken is and I do have reason to be concerned about this.  We have lost chickens/guineas to weasels and owls.  Our neighbor lost a large number of chickens to a fox.  Something unknown left evidence of a chicken kill in our field recently.  When I go down to the barn each morning, I spend a few seconds worrying there will have been a massacre during the night and have a happy moment of relief when the barn yard is carcass-free.  This is also related to #7.

7.  Sometimes Livestock = Deadstock

When you have animals, you have death.  This is an unfortunate reality.  While we do butcher almost all our own meat, we have also lost quite a few chickens and rabbits to other causes.  In addition to the previously mentioned predators, we have also had rats kill baby bunnies.  We lost several chickens to intestinal parasites and one to mites.  We lost more than a few rabbits to enteritis, intestinal parasites, and toxic plants.  This is another one of those things that the kids have had to adapt to.  SJ has no problem with the butchering and actually gets excited about eating our own.  HS doesn’t like it, but will still eat it.  They both get upset when an animal dies unexpectedly but know that is the way of things.

6.  Politics SUCK.  No, I’m not talking about the train-wreck that is our current presidential election.  I’m talking about small town politics.  In many small towns (such as ours) it really makes a difference who you know and how long you’ve been around.  That’s not to say the people aren’t nice and welcoming – most of them ARE.  But even so there have been several times the local politics have come into play for us.  Participating in the local farmers’ market has been one of those times.  We learned quickly that if we wanted to be a part of the system, we had to play by some rules that didn’t necessarily make sense to us.  We have also learned that in a place where everyone knows everyone, it is hard to be new and in conflict with someone who is already established in town.  At the moment I can’t be very detailed on this right now, but I’ll try to get the point across in the following hypothetical story.  Let’s just say we decide to build new barn because the old one is falling apart.  The person who built our barn is offended that we think the barn isn’t good enough and upset that we blame them.  We try to get a contractor to build the new barn and get a permit from the city to build it, but no one wants to build the barn or give us the permit because they are a friend-of-a-friend or cousins with the original barn builder.  Instead of saying that they don’t want to be involved in our project, they just don’t return calls or make things difficult to schedule for months and months.  This is something similar to what we are actually dealing with, it’s just not about a barn.

5.  Complacency Happens.

I don’t like to think about it or admit it, but I have gotten used to seeing the beautiful mountains around me and a sky full of stars at night.  When we first got here I was in awe of all the beauty of this part of the country.  Now there are times I have to actually remind myself to go outside after dark and just look at the stars.  I sometimes forget how miserable I was stuck indoors when I was working full time.  I used to spend a few brief moments outside on those gorgeous Spring days in Alabama when the sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot (they do exist!).  Now I get to be outside almost all the time, doing what I love, with the people I love.  I don’t want to forget to be thankful for that.

4.   Proximity Matters in Relationships.

Moving to a new place far away from friends and family is difficult.  As much as we love and miss everyone, it is difficult to maintain relationships when we are so far away.  We have missed weddings and other big events during the past year.  I want our friends and family to know we love and care about you all even if we can’t be physically there.  We want to maintain these relationships in whatever capacity is possible, even if sometimes that just means sharing a text message conversation or facebook photos.  In addition to being far away from everyone we used to hang out with frequently, we have animals and gardens here that need daily maintenance.  We would love to travel and see our distant friends and family more but it is not possible at the moment.  We are working on a farm-sitting trade that will hopefully help with that.  If anyone wants to come visit us, we are happy to have you!  We are also making friends here who we would like to spend more time with.

3.  There is just NOT ENOUGH TIME in a day.

TS and I both work part-time from home.  One would think that not working full-time would give us plenty of free time to spend on our farm projects, but the reality is there is ALWAYS something to do when you have a farm and there is ALWAYS something to do when you have kids.  We have both.  We are BUSY.  Yesterday while TS was cutting up beans to can and I was peeling what felt like a bottomless bowl of carrots from the garden, he asked me “How did people back in the day DO this?” and I truthfully do not know.  It takes quite a bit of time to do all the canning and freezing to preserve the bounty from the garden, even on a small scale.  I have been feeling stretched very thin this Summer.  I know I am feeling overwhelmed when my “near-constant-stream-of-ideas-for-new-projects” has not made an appearance in my brain for months.  I actually do not know that that has ever happened before.  Soon tomato season will be over and HS will be in Kindergarten, and things will maybe slow down here a little.  I hope.

2.  I will always miss Auburn.

I almost can’t talk about Auburn without getting a little misty-eyed.  I spent half of my life there.  I met my husband there and we lived there for our first 10 years of marriage.  We bought homes, made friends, had children there.  The sound of the stadium on a game day, the toilet paper still blowing in a Fall breeze through the Oaks the morning after a win, a “chipmunk hunt” in the Arboretum with HS and SJ, lunches at Niffers, hanging out with “Margaret” and “Rita” after work with my Surgical Clinic girls, cookouts and climbing parties at our Opelika house with the old group…  I miss them all so much.  I could easily list 50 more things but I’d rather quit now and move onto my #1 thing I have learned in our first year here.

1..  There is Nothing Else I’d Rather Be Doing!

Seriously.  I get to spend almost all my time with my husband and kids, outside, in the country, with animals, and eating good food.  Sure, it is a lot of work.  There are things we have had to sacrifice and things we “do without” on a regular basis.  But we are doing what we want to be doing.  We have more enthusiasm for life.  I feel strongly that our time is being well spent, that we are doing something that truly matters for TS and I, that will have a positive impact on our kids, and that we can feel good about on a spiritual level.  People may think we are crazy.  And that’s okay.  Farming/homesteading makes us happy and gives us a true sense of purpose.  Whatever that thing is for my friends, I support you.  Let’s all seize the day!

Lori

Harvest Time

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The garden is producing like crazy and we are harvesting daily.  Cucumbers and peppers are ready to be picked every 2-3 days or so.  We harvested most of the tomatillos but there are still a few still waiting to be picked.  The bush beans are done, but the pole beans are still producing.  We gave up on the broccoli – we pulled the sunburnt and pest-eaten plants and planted seeds for a fall crop in the middle field.  There are still collards, kale, and strawberry spinach to be picked and carrots to be dug.   Almost all of the potatoes have been dug.  We did our best to pick as many of the wild blackberries as we could which meant braving the thorns, heat, ticks, and poison ivy on the brushy hillside about every other day for 2 weeks.    TOMATO season has begun and I am picking pounds of tomatoes every other day.  Our corn seems to be growing well and there are small ears on every plant.  All but one small patch of lettuce has bolted and dill has gone to seed.  We still have more beautiful rainbow chard than we can eat.  We have dug up a few onions, but the rest are still growing along with the leeks.  The strawberries got a little deer-eaten but are now protected by row covers.  The asparagus bed is full of tall fern-like asparagus plants.  It’s in need of weeding, but an active yellow jacket nest is currently keeping me out of the area.  The garlic cloves I impulsively stuck in the ground last Fall and forgot about actually grew into useable garlic bulbs!  The cabbage plants are finally forming heads but I have no idea if they will be edible – there were so many cabbage moth eggs on them that they could be full of caterpillars.  Overall, our first growing season has been a success, even without the use of any synthetic fertilizers or insecticides.

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All this harvesting means I am spending lots of time preserving food.  I am pickling, jam-making, canning, blanching, and freezing at least SOMETHING just about every day.  Many of the potatoes have been made into a delicious soup for the freezer.  The tomatillos became many pints of salsa verde.  I have lost count of how many pints of pickles we have.  We haven’t harvested our corn yet, but Trav bought some beautiful corn at the and used it to create a delicious corn chowder.  I made as much blackberry jam as I could while the wild blackberries were producing, but we are gifting it and eating it so fast that it will be gone soon.  I have overcome my fear of the pressure canner!  There are a lot of things that are not safe to be water-bath canned, but can be pressure-canned, like beans, potatoes, corn, and meat.  The pressure canner is the only way to safely can those items.  We are eating many of the tomatoes fresh, but a lot are going into tomato sauce.  We have plenty of basil, oregano, and Italian parsley as well!

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We have other projects going on as well – increasing rabbit production, yarn-spinning, soap-making, and other things that I will have to write about later.  I have tomatoes waiting to be processed!