I farm for three reasons, first I want to provide my family with the best food I can and second I want to share my love of gardening with friends and family. Lastly, I want to leave the Earth better than I found it. We have learned that you can not have a productive vegetable garden without an animal presence on the farm. The animal manure and activity on the land is what makes gardening without store bought fertilizers possible. Our farm is only 5 acres and we do not have the ablitiy to raise meat and goat milk for the world, but it is enough to feed our family and close friends. Every year we raise chickens, turkeys, goats and pigs for our family consumption. The farm has finally grown to the point that we are protein independant. The only thing that is raised off our land is beef and that is raised by a very close family friend. There is peace of mind knowing that when there is a bird flu, mad cow, crazy disease outbreak, we do not have to worry about what is on our table.
Every year when I share pictures of these animals on Facebook, I always gets the same response. “I could never raise an animal I was going to eat.” Raising meat animals is often looked at as cruel, when infact, it is the opposit. We raise these animals because we love them. I know that my birds were raised in sunshine and on grass. They were loved and given the best life possible while they were here. I am not willing to give up meat and become a vegetarian, so I want to make sure the animals I eat are well cared for. The meat birds pictured above get moved to fresh grass often, and they are preparing my garden beds for the future. They are fertilizing, mowing and turning up the grass, as well as controling pests. I will add leaf compost and turn it all under to plant my corn. This practice saves me time and money while putting an amazing meal on my table. The turkey our family ate at Thanksgiving, tilled and prepared the ground I will grow my pumpkins on for pie this year. It is all a tasty cycle.
We have not figured out all the checks and balances of farming yet, but when you allow things to work together the way they were designed, the outcome is amazing. Giving back to the land and being good stewards of the reasources we are given is one of my favorite things about farming.
I have not planted any Silver Bells in the garden yet, but there is something magical and nursery ryhym like about a garden growing in the spring. Out of a seed comes this magical plant, with some sun, water and good soil it can produce food to feed my family and friends. It is something about gardening that never grows old.
This year our Spring has been hot and cold, dry and wet a typlical Maryland Spring. We are working diligently when the weather allows us. We have to get all the garden beds made and the seeds planted. Last year some of our crops struggled to grow in the heavy clay soil in the garden. This year we are not tilling the compost into the clay, we are just adding 6+ inches of compost to the top of the clay. This means we are doing a lot of dirt moving, raking, and shoveling. It looks great and the plants are loving the fresh, nutrient dense soil. So far this spring we have planted onions, kale, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peas, carrots, and radishes. The garlic over wintered well and is growing lik crazy. The asparagus plants, still have at least another season before they reach their full potental. Rhubarb is growing leaps and bounds, we are waiting to be brave enough to harvest it and try new recipes. As the result of our mild winter, some of our herbs were able to over winter well. We will have plenty of Oregano and sage this year.
This year we have opened our CSA program and it has required extra planing and planting. We want to be able to offer our customers a wide verity of veggies for the season. We are planting a total of 62+ different vegetables and 15+ different herbs. We have started over 700 seedlings so far this spring to try and get a jump on the season. Most of those seedlings are doing great, there has already been two crop fails, but we are replanting and hoping to still be able to have a good harvest later in the season. The CSA program this year, will pay for us to be able to put up an larger greenhouse, which will be a welcome addition to our farm for starting seeds through the winter and into next spring.
It is a busy season for sure, but I am really enjoying having dirt under my fingernails again and sunkissed arms.
Spring means it is tick season again here on the East Coast. In the spring the ticks are very small in their nymph stage, they are the size of a pin head. Even this small these ticks can do damage. I have struggled with Chronic Lyme Disease for 4 years. I have a personal dispise for these small, blood sucking creatures. Over the years we have tired many things to get rid of them. Nothing that we did seemed to get rid of them completely. We make sure the animals have been vaccinated and that we use tick prevention on them. This has helped but is still not 100% , especially not for the goats. So after doing more research and talking to other farmers, I believe we have found a solution that will work; Guinea Hens.
A large precentage of the Guinea Hens diet is ticks. They forage and “hunt” for their food, they do not eat from the feeder. Meaning they not only eat ticks but they are also very economical. There are many challenges that come along with guineas which is why they are not the solution for everyone. First, they are incredibly loud. The sound they make is similar to that of nails on the calk board, it will send chills down your spine. Second,they are almost imposible to keep in a designated area, they will visit the neighbors or just plain leave the farm. Lastly, they do not go into a barn to roost at night, so if you start the spring with 10 guineas, by the end of the summer the fox will have eaten most of them. Even with all those down sides I have decided guineas are worth a try.
They will be in a brooding pen close to the house for a few weeks, once the weather warms up and they feather out, they will be moved to their guinea treehouse in the field. Guineas love to roost up high, so we are going to build them a coop off the ground. We are hoping that if we keep them in this coop for a couple weeks while they are still young they will come back to it at night and not die! Who knows, I will have to let you know how they do. In the mean time, I am looking forward to tick free fields and a decreased risk of Lyme disease for my family and my animals. They are so cute when they are little! Not so much when they are older.
It seems to me that the colder it gets outside, the more I think about Spring. Today it is freezing rain and I have a laundry list of chores that I need to do…what am I doing? Sitting in front of the fireplace dreaming of the summer garden. It is time for seed orders and planning. The problem is that winter is also the time to catch up on everything else. Like house work and repairs that never can happen during the warmer months because we have so much other stuff to do. I need hours to plan the garden, graph paper, charts, excel documents, seed catalogues, food storage inventory and customer orders. I love it and hate it all at the same time. If I do it right and take the time to plan everything perfectly now, the summer will run on auto pilot. Today I am 100% in the right frame of mind to think of the garden. However, the hole in the fence where the fox is getting through, the piles of laundry, Christmas decorations that need to be put alway, apples that need to be baked into pies and sauce. The work is never ending, so my seed catalogues will sit another day, while I go about my work, hoping the someday comes someday soon!
When you choose the life of homesteading there are so many things that “normal” people would just not understand. Today’s example of that is my wood stove. We choose to heat our house with an amazing wood stove. We keep it burning almost around the clock in the colder months. Ever hour or so you throw a log in and go about your business. It just becomes routine. This morning, before I was going to go out and milk the goat, (another perfectly “normal” activity), I threw a log in… well this log was one inch too long. Of course the stove was crazy hot so the log burst into flames immediately and did not give me a chance to change my mind about log choice. What are my options? Well I could run through the house with a burning log to get to the metal barrel outside, or I just have to sit and wait for it to burn down enough to be able to put it in all the way.
Today of all days is my busy day, we spend the most time away from the farm today and I am on a tight schedule this morning. Without any hold ups we are rushing to get it all done. Today, I get to explain that I am late because a log was too big. People are going to look at me like I am nuts.
This is not the first time the farm and homesteading has placed us behind schedule; We have pigs get stuck in tomato cages, late for family dinner. Goats get out and we can not get them back in, late for church. Aquaponics system overflow, husband had to miss work. The list could just go on and on. Everyday, we are uncertain about what we are going to find and what challenges we are going to face. No wonder homesteaders tend to be home bodies. It is not that we are antisocial, it is just that our life is crazy!
There are some days we talk about giving it all up. We could heat our house with oil, we could join a CSA, we could find local farmers to get our food from. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why does Thanksgiving take nine months to prepare for? We will not even talk about the Christmas ham! We would have more money, because it is not cheaper. We would have more time, whats that? Why do we do this? Personally, I think we are slightly crazy. Also, there is a piece of us that just loves it. You have to love it, or why would you go out in the freezing cold to tend to animals and harvest from the garden, when you could go to a heated store. I’m tired, it is hard work, and it almost never goes as planned. However, at the end, (or the beginning of the day), I would not trade it for anything in the world.
As you can tell by the title of this post, today did not go well. I was able to get Hiccup, my goat, an appointment to get some x-rays done. This morning, I fed him a bottle at 530 am. He was not showing any improvement from last night. By 11 am he was worse. I could tell that he was not getting the fluid and nutrition that he needed. He was starving to death. I still kept the appointment for the x-ray because I wanted to know what happened.
By the time he arrived at the hospital his body temperature had dropped and he was very sluggish. I knew that I would not be bringing him home. He was deteriorating quickly. The vet took 5 different x-rays. None of them provided any answers. Even without answers, I knew that putting him down was the right thing to do.
Life is complicated. Death is even more complicated. I hated making the decision, but I am very thankful that he is not suffering anymore. While they are with me, I love them, I do the best that I can to care for them and pray for wisdom. There comes a point where we have to hand it over to God and Nature. There are many factors that I just can not control.
Hiccup was a year and a half. He was full of life and had a wonderful personality. I hope and pray that I can learn from my time with him to better my care of my other goats. Rest in Peace my friend.
Farming is not easy. There is a direct connection between life and death. We raise animals for food. Animals that we raise from a baby and then end up butchering. That is not easy, but we understand from the beginning what the animal is used for and you are always emotionally preparing yourself for that. Even those animals, if they die before the butcher day, it is very upsetting. We have some animals on the farm that have a purpose, but are not going to be butchered for food. Our whethered goats are an example of that. They are spoiled rotten lawn mowers. They keep the milking goats company and they keep the back pasture mowed. Other than that, they have no purpose. All of our goats were hand raised as bottle babies. It makes them so much easier to handle and overly friendly. So yes, they are basically pets that eat grass, but they are cute pets that eat grass.
We had a family situation that pulled us away from the farm for 8 days. Luckily we have amazing friends that took care of the farm and the animals. However, while we were gone one of the goats became ill. No one is sure what happened, but the vet believes that he has a broken jaw. We have tried everything that we can do here, and we now have to take him to a hospital for x-rays and sedation. There is probably less than a 10% chance that he is going to make it.
Searching for answers and trying to save a life and not torturing the animals while going bankrupt at the same time if a fine line. We want to do everything that we can, but we want him to have a quality of life too AND he is just a lawn mower! We don’t have thousands of dollars to put into this guy. BUT, we raised him from a baby and he is part of the family. No matter how you look at it, it just stinks. I hate having to make the decision to end a life, it just stinks. I will keep you posted about what happens today and what we find out.