A silent destruction

5c8bad88a77cd.imageThe national media is obsessed with the process of electing a President that won’t culminate for another 18 months or so, and don’t really have column inches or airtime enough to spend on the real crisis happening right now….or the crisis that is to come.

The weather in the midwest has devastated family farms and continues to do so. Of course, weather happens every year, season in and season out, and farmers and ranchers do plan for it.

But the ranchers and farmers in Nebraska didn’t plan on a frozen reservoir breaking, record snowfall melting, and record rainfall falling. Farms are destroyed and generations of breeding, equipment and homesteads are lost. Thousands of acres of land are under water, just at spring seed planting time, and drying out will take weeks. That will be too late for spring crops to go in, and besides that, the topsoil will have been washed away.

The loss of breeding stock is a blow to genetic improvement programs everywhere, not just to the local farms. A farmer who has a particular line of imported sheep, cattle or goats has lost years and years of upbreeding, not to mention the possibility that the traits and genetics that he started with could well have been the last of its kind.
And other breeders may have depended on that farmer’s breeding program for their own herds.

Beyond that, the vast majority of agricultural losses come from crops. Nebraska’s top five contributions to the U.S. economy are cattle, corn, soybeans, hogs and wheat. Corn alone is in nearly every product sector (livestock feed, bio-plastics (biodegradable plastic ware), batteries, matches, textile products (like carpet!), crayons, and ethanol.  Between 10 and 20 percent of the corn crop is exported.

It directly affects the farmer, but also the supermarkets of the nation, and the exports of food to other nations. There will be severe shortages of a variety of crops and feeds such as alfalfa, forage grasses and grains. Beef and pork will be more expensive for at least the coming year, as will ethanol-blended gasoline.

The level of catastrophe was so sudden that there was no time to evacuate pregnant livestock or move seed stockpiles to a safe place.

While the pundits dither over what a candidate’s hand movements actually say about him, or why a celebrity might want to pay a half a million dollars to get their mediocre and uninterested kid into an elite college, lifetimes of work, breeding and agricultural heritage have been washed away, with no solution to replace them.





Micromanaging a heritage breed

OK, South African Boer goats are not all that ‘heritage’.

They are, however, a true landrace breed. The name “Boer” roughly translates into “farm” or “farmer” in Dutch, the primary settlers of South Africa in the late 19th century.

In 1992 – 1993, Boer goats were imported to North America from New Zealand, Australia and Zimbabwe, and the breeding emphasis was on increasing musculature for carcass weights. Now, the original herds were not phenotypical, and serious breeders were constantly assessing body conformation and structure, and introducing individuals with  singular traits to further refine the overall animal. The average auction price for a Boer buck – any Boer buck – was about $46,000.

Demand for goat meat in America had been relatively flat. We are, after all, a population of beef-eaters. So Boer goats were a hobby, a diversion, an animal to wash and brush and show and tinker with to get deeper reds, whiter whites and, in the last few years dapples!

In the pursuit of champions have Boer goats been subjected to exacting nutritional formulas, exercise programs and tweezer-perfect show clips. But at the end of the day, if a goat gets loose (and you know they will), they will throw all those expensive feed rations out the window and go straight for your roses, azaleas, raspberry and maple trees. Despite decades of selective breeding, they remain browsers.

I reduced the number of breeding animals in my herd to concentrate on developing black paints and black dapples. Not as a result of consumer demand, for a black-headed goat sells like a red-headed goat when they are on the menu, but for my own pleasure. I love the surprise of the patterns and colors of new kids, and researching genetics to see if my hunches will prove true in terms of natural conformation. I don’t show, but I sell to show folks. I don’t eat goat meat (though I do like it), but I sell to meat customers. I don’t see the two customers as competing against each other; you can have a delicious black dappled buck win int he show ring, or win on the dinner table.

For the past two summers, I have been able to open up the neighboring pasture after it has been unoccupied by animals or people all winter. There is a wide variety of grasses, herbs, woody shrubs, wildflowers, trees and ferns. I know some of them are allegedly toxic to goats (I do try to pull out the foxgloves when they bloom), but for the most part I let them all browse whatever they want. I don’t supplement them at all, except as a treat now and then.

The Gotland sheep are out there with them.

The goats are well-rounded, glossy, clear-eyed and active. They have to go to one side of the 5 acres to get their water, and to the other to find shade and shelter. They make their own decisions and are the mistresses of their destiny except when it is time to trim hooves. I believe allowing livestock to live as their breed was developed to live enhances to their overall health, physical and mental. Drylot, commercial feeds and preventative medications and supplements can most likely result in a show champion, but at what cost to the individual animal? I do not want to raise or sell animals so fragile that they need frequent intervention in order to survive.

A great many dog breeds are facing the same dilemma.

I have located some exceptional Boer bucks that I believe will compliment the three does I currently have; in conformation, coloring and carcass weights. The two adult does, Emi and Cami will be bred by AI this fall for spring 2019 kids. Dark Charm, the newest black dappled Dark Mark daughter, will have to wait until next year to be bred as she isn’t quite a year old yet.

And until the hole in the fence closes, all three of them will be living the natural Boer goat life.


Recognizing doors


Disappointment is never easy, especially when people are involved.

If a situation is disappointing, it could be because of timing, such as how many red lights can you actually hit while you are late for work, or because of choices, like when you spend your last dollar in a slot machine, and as you walk away, you hear it singing for the guy who sat down behind you.
But we want people to be the best for us, and meet our expectations.  If a supplier promises to have a certain quantity of an item we need in delivering a unique creation and they end up over-promising and under-delivering, we tend not to look beyond the person who spoke the words “It’ll be there.” We aren’t interested in why they couldn’t make it work, we just know how it affects us.

So it was that a group of people made some decisions that affect the Farm’s ability to participate in planning the 2018 Farmer’s Market. It was to be in a new, modern (and enclosed) location, with electricity, heating a working commercial kitchen, the works. Plus, the city was going to waive stall fees.
We were very excited and have been trying out new flavored salts recipes (with accompanying costs for exotic ingredients), breads (again, equipment and ingredient costs) and marketing materials (banners with hard-surface stands and adorable egg stamps). Though initial plans were for all interested vendor to be a part of this group, it’s evolved to a very small group of ‘elite vendors’, whatever that means, to make decisions for the rest of the Market participants. And as there is a wide variety of vendors who offer goods from edibles, to handmade items, to services, we felt they all had unique perspectives and should be permitted to voice opinions and concerns.

It is not to be.

I spent a couple of hours trying to define responsibility and blame for what I saw was a breakdown in communication, intention and basic good manners. However, that is not my Thing To Know and all I can do is look to my Farm.
While we may not be at The Farmer’s Market in 2018 (or any Market, for that matter),  it seems other opportunities may open up.
We are eagerly awaiting news of December kids from North Sand Mountain’s Dark Mark. We want a doeling to expand both our general meat lines and color genetics. We have yet to name the little black and white paint buck that we retained from this year’s kid crop, but he (along with Blackhawk and Pharoah) is getting show rations in anticipation for the spring shows. It’s something I’ve not done yet and will spend the winter creating isolation pens for when the stock returns from shows.
Also, we have interest in a couple of Blue Face Leicester ewe lambs to support fleece customers and generally enjoy BFL as a breed. Quality BFL sheep are very scarce, moorit (natural or brown colored) wool moreso, so though the breed isn’t on the  Livestock Conservancy watchlist, a sister breed, the Leicester Longwool is, and the scarcity of breeders make them a good fit for the Farm’s mission.

We were very successful with pork shares this year and are considering increasing the number for 2018. We also processed a couple of lambs, and they sold very quickly as well. A (surprisingly) close fiber mill is creating two signature roving blends, and the 2017 lamb fleeces continue to develop nicely and improve in structure and luster.

So when we start looking at what we have instead of what we don’t, perspective changes. If the Farm isn’t present at a Farmer’s Market, where we did well sales-wise, we would have time to attend competitions and shows farther away from the local area and expand the customer base. Perhaps we would offer a greater range of small-stock transportation services, which in turn would expand the customer base and the types of services. Other opportunities will surely present themselves and not being tied to an ongoing commitment might be a good thing.

Check the website and Facebook in the coming weeks.  Could be we will have just the thing for you!



Feast and famine

In a bi-polar twist by Mother Nature, these summer days have been endlessly clear and dry, with beautiful blue skies, hot hot hot sunshine and very little wind. With the exception of the fires ravaging the Pacific Northwest as well as other parts of the country, the air quality is nearly perfect, making the cool well water even more refreshing when I’m using it to fill water troughs…again. I’ve heard no end to the comments about it being so HOT and how the humans are suffering so. I did give into my anthropomorphic side and sheared the little spring lambs. They looked so hot in their fluffy wool coats!
I suspect the shearing was more traumatic to them than just hanging out in the shade, but what’s done is done and I feel more comfortable when I look at them.

Last week we got a couple hours of misty rain, and I realized how refreshing it was. I also realized that more rain would inevitably be on the way and it was time to start preparing, so I took a walk in the rain and remembered where the muddy marshy places had been, where the snowload had prevented easy travels around common areas and where ice had made working and walking impossible.

The deluges of January, February, March AND April made me think about a proper barn structure, so the goats and sheep, and Gio the Maremma can find relief from wet feet and cold night winds. But looking at the potential barn site today, I see that the cedar trees would impact the roof and the grade really slopes too much. I did have fencing put in to become part of the barn structure and that is something I don’t want to waste or tear out, so another load of good gravel would improve the slope without blocking the natural flow of the swale, and adjusting the size and position of the barn, plus trimming some large branches (courtesy of my new awesome Ryobi cordless pole saw) will make this a reality.
The freezing spell in December and January had me thinking about nonslip coatings on the walkways, but I don’t think there will be enough dry time to do that and everything else. Home Depot does have a good selection of large, commercial-grade rubber mats that would not be affected by ice or water, and those have the added bonus of being portable. They would be far less expensive in terms of money and labor, so that will probably happen.
And the hot and dry weather reinforced my belief flame-resistant landscaping should be an integral part of any home that relies on volunteer fire fighting services. Tearing out some well-intentioned cedars that looked pretty, but were destroying the asphalt driveway and interfering with visibility, and were too close to the house was simpler than I thought it would be, though I felt bad for the trees. The boy goats and sheep appreciated the big snack.
I also replanted some vine maple volunteers from the rockery to the chicken yard in a couple of repurposed wood crates , to increase the shade levels back there.

I am still enjoying the gravel paths that were placed in years past to level out some low places and provide a better walking surface. Even with a few weeds growing through, it’s far better than mush and mud.

The pigs have been rotated to their final pasture. They did an outstanding job of rooting up a lot of acreage  that will be planted over with winter cover crops. That is the theory, anyway. The plantings in the north pasture did not produce as I hoped, but it was most likely my lack of skill. I am doing more research on planting rotational pastures so I can really use all 5 acres to their utmost.

So a year of extremes yields a future of plans. I have sold all of the goat kids and three adult does, in preparation for a doe kid from a line I have wanted for a long time. And I have made cull decisions on the Gotlands, so we will have lamb to sell in October. Several brand-new Swedish Gotland rams were collected and imported and I bought 3 straws of extremely limited, top-notch genetics. I won’t AI this year, but next year I plan to AI Zipper, Eli and Dafne. The pigs were very successful and we will have more next year. The Barbizieux chickens have proven too flighty to justify the time it takes to care for them vs the income from their meat, so all of them will be processed in November and that breed will be done. The Standard White Cornish is still a viable breed, though they really need to step up their laying game! I acquired a Silver Fox doe who should kindle here in a couple of weeks, and got two young Silver Martin does from the same breeder who was getting out of meat rabbits. They are all so beautiful. I love rabbits! These are purely for my pleasure (and heating the greenhouse this winter), so expect to see lots of photos of them on the Facebook page.

mountain quail
One last addition might be Mountain Quail. Oreortyx pictus pictus is the subspecies that live naturally in the Cascade Range and though not endangered, this species is the only category in the genus Oreotyx. They are the largest quail breed and have beautiful markings and range from California to Washington. Breeding is tricky, supposedly, but how could they be so prevalent if that was really the case? I’ll let them have the run of a covered pen and see what happens.

Intelligence, Real and Artificial

I admire Elon Musk for his ability to understand not only quantum physics, but how those properties apply to everyday people and their lives. It does take a different kind of smarts to be able to explain a complex theory.
He has been an advocate of travel to Mars and restrictions on the technology that would allow that sort of thing, at the same time. Specifically, he recently implored governmental leaders to intentionally limit the artificial intelligence arms race, calling the technology “an existential threat to mankind”.
And then there’s Google.

The company just released a video of the results of how advanced their AI “DeepMind” taught itself to walk. Through trial and error, it can now walk, run, maneuver over and under obstacles, climb and maintain balance. You can see the promotional video here: https://youtu.be/gn4nRCC9TwQ.

Google is already the leader in search engine algorithms, which tracks each website click, length of time spent on a site and from where and to where others sites the user goes. Seems as though  “Minority Report” was more science than fiction.

Musk is by far more deeply involved in technological capabilities than most cutting-edge companies and certainly moreso than most governments and his assessment is thus:

“AI is a fundamental existential risk for human civilization, and I don’t think people fully appreciate that,” Musk said. He said he has access to cutting-edge AI technology, and that based on what he’s seen, AI is “the scariest problem.

So how does that square with the (now) run-of-the-mill dystopian scenarios that are driving the most recent surge in disaster prepping and homesteading practices? If robots can catch us when we run, climb up or down to where we might hide, don’t care if they die and can track us down through technology (which would ostensibly include GPS, satellites, infrared and electromagnetism), is there a point to preparing for anything in the future? Should we just ride the wave and think fondly of the days when it was only in movies that a Terminator (Terminator), or a Chief John Anderton (Minority Report), or a Thomas Bryan Reynolds (Enemy of the State) that there is nowhere to hide.

For all its potentially terrifying possibilities for the human condition, AI is still….artificial. It lacks the true capacity to feel or change it’s ‘mind’ based on compassion, love, treachery or fear. It lacks the ability to understand why a person would lie or sacrifice themselves. It has no understanding of the why of art or how to create something based on beauty. That is where our defenses truly lie, the humaness of being human. True, a robot may be nearly physically unbeatable, but nothing yet has withstood the powers of concentration of a toddler intent on getting into something they know they shouldn’t be into, or the plot intricacies of a group of teenaged girls.

I’m betting on the toddlers.


Refreshing the resevoir


Holy rainforest, Batman.
The precipitation, in all its forms, continues. There has been hard rain every day for the past two weeks except for yesterday. All the animals found a patch of sun and spent as much time just laying in it.

Char had twin does, one of which was a black and white paint. Unfortunately, that one was the smaller one (by a longshot) and Char would not consider caring for her. After the first day, it was obvious it wasn’t a matter of just grafting her own back to her and as a bottle baby goat was out of the question, she was put up for quick adoption. She has a great pedigree and flashy markings and was quickly claimed. Her name is Doublestuff Oreo and you can follow her progress to queen of the 4H world at Facebook.com/Bloedel-Acres if you would like. She is a brave and happy doeling.

Char’s other doe is a sturdy solid red, graduating into black legs and just a ring of white around one hoof. She is pretty mellow and will make a great 4H or show doe.

The rain, while inconvenient to me personally, is practically helpful. I’m able to see where the water likes to go and how long the land holds onto it in certain spots. Along the back fence line, which I am replacing, I found a large area of clay that is very unstable. I’ll have to reroute the fence, which is OK because we get more rain here than not and if the fence fails here, it would allow predators access to the property. I would not have known about the clay patch unless we had this much rain for so long. I also appreciate the way that the surface water percolates down, filtering through the different soil layers til it reaches the aquifer. I don’t feel guilty about watering my lawn or taking long showers.

Another benefit of prolonged rainfall is determining how the animals tolerate their living quarters and how to streamline my animal management workload.

The doe group is currently in the greenhouse where it is warm and all the ground is dry. I know they are happier not always walking in mush. I was on the fence regarding the proposed barn floor; my initial choice was just dirt. It was, after all, going to be covered and therefore wouldn’t be muddy. But the bucks and the sheep also have covered shelter and dirt floors, and it is always slightly damp in there now, the result of the water traveling around underneath. It’s not like it’s soaking wet, but I wouldn’t like to lay on damp ground and besides, wet straw promotes bacteria and worm eggs, and rats love it. So concrete it will be.

Since I am replacing all the fencing, I will have the option of sectioning off individual pens for an outside run adjacent to the stalls. I watched Char and BeBe in the dog kennel area, which has a large covered area opening to the grass, during the periods of rain. They laid in their straw under cover and at the first sign of rain stoppage, went out to the grass. It seems to be their preference to take advantage of changing weather so I want to provide that in the barn. I won’t have to keep going out to put them up in their stalls or go let them out if I give them an option to do it themselves.

Downspouts on the corners of the roof will provide a passive drinking water supply for most of the year. I am using Ondura panels for roofing, not asphalt shingles, so there won’t be a chemical residue.

I’m also going to create a feed room in the barn which will be totally away from pushy goats and sheep. No more fighting at the door, and the greenhouse area will then be all plant stuff.

I’m happy with the progress of outbuildings and surface water management techniques I’ve planned. The long-awaited video series will be starting up for the Farm’s YouTube channel in the next couple of weeks and the Gotlands should start lambing then as well. Hopefully the fencing will be done by then and the rams (and bucks) can all go in the back pasture and do whatever guys do. I know the ewes don’t appreciate being in with them and it will make feeding so much more straightforward.

Just because it’s pouring rain doesn’t mean there is nothing to do. The pigs are staring at the house from inside their dog kennel, waiting for any sign of life to emerge. It is tempting to stay in my flannel lounging pants and fiddle with the tomato starts, but my customers depend on me to provide the best meat and eggs from animals who are well taken care of, so I’ll put on my neoprene boots and rainjacket and trek out there with breakfast and some treats to help them pass the day.

Come on, Spring!


Not the global warming I expected

Snow.jpgThe last time it snowed this much ……well, it has never snowed this much at the Farm. Over 14 inches.

Its wonderful, fluffy, snow-white snow, perfect for snowballs, tobogganing, skiing, all those sorts of winter fun.

The goats were not amused.

This is not funny.jpg

The chickens fared a bit better, perhaps because they can spread their little toes and walk on top of the drifts. But they didn’t like it either and in the interest of consolidating the workload of feeding them, all the Cornish and Chanteclers were put into one pen. Still, a couple ventured out and then decided they could not make it back through the stuff and had to be rescued. In the end, they all pretty much stayed inside their coop and watched the day go by.

The Barbs in the north pasture were at a complete loss. They stayed in the trees during the actual storm and had a nickel-sized area of dirt underneath. They couldn’t possibly make it all the way over to the feed shelter, could they?

No, they couldn’t.

Not until I unrolled a strip of straw blanketing and made a little walkway from the trees to the feed shelter. They thought that was mighty fancy and didn’t hesitate at all to walk on over.I thought they would walk back and jump into the trees. but surprisingly they all stayed inside the little shelter that they had heretofore spurned.

Any port in a storm.jpg

In the layer pens, their water was way too far out for them to go and besides even if they could have made it, I doubt they would have been able to find it.

They had a few bare patches under the trees and looked like they were on the ledge of a ten story building trying to stay off the snow around the coops. I tramped a few pathways for them from the feeders to the main coop doors and they seemed to like it pretty well.

The weight of the snow was enough to drag the netting down in the covered pen and even bend the 6 X 6 posts inward. Little Toast waited it out in her chicken tractor and this morning I couldn’t find her at all. Hopefully she is deep in one of her tunnels and will come out when all is well.

Snow dmage.jpg

The netting is about 20 years old now and as we don’t really have birds that need to be prevented from flying off, it will have to go. It’s still good netting though and I’ll have to find a use for it somewhere else. It’s a tangle and strangle hazard so that is a consideration.

And in the buck pen, while the tarp-over-PVC wasn’t much, it did OK as a general rain and sun shelter. Not so with snow. It gave up pretty quickly once the snow started to pile on, and eventually collapsed completely. Poor Hawk was soaking wet, and RPB1 was also all wet and not happy. Pharoah thought having something to rub his head against was pretty neat!  They all went very willingly into the greenhouse section of the high tunnel where it is dry and relatively warm. They destroyed the anti-scratch wiring over the garlic bulbs, knocked over all the spare pots and have lots of room to practice head butting.

Buck pen.jpg

The new barn will be a very welcome addition in both space and hard roofing.

Trying to walk through all the snow is like sloshing through soap suds…it just doesn’t go anywhere.  Not being able to see where you are going brings surprises all the time. I need to find a way to mark sudden dropoffs, curbs and other obstacles that look so deceptively soft and rounded. I did find the hose, though. Barely.Hose.jpg

The temperature is warmer now and it’s raining hard. Heavy rain is in the forecast as well for the next week. The Barbs coop needs a couple panels for the roof and then that will be done, so that and getting more walls for the barn built is the priority.

All in all, I would rather be doing these big jobs in the winter when there isn’t much else to do and can get them done under shelter than in the blazing heat of the summer. I also expect great things from the garden this year and want to be able to devote as much time as necessary to that.

We will have a couple of Berkshire/GOS pigs this year as well. Watch the Facebook page for share updates.

Happy New Year

Besides being one of the coldest months of the year (here in the northern hemisphere anyway), January is a time to get tax receipts together, make garden plans and revise goals, both personal and business.

The Farm did surprisingly well last year. It was a surprise to me, at least, as I was out of action for three separate surgeries that limited my time outside. The beauty of having heritage breeds that can stand a little inattention came through during these times, and all is forgiven with an extra snack of sunflower seeds or garden gleaning.

The 2016 goals were about evenly split between building infrastructure and investing in breeding stock. Of the infrastructure goals, the tractor garage, chicken shelters (and bonus! sheep shelter), and chicken runs all got built.  The wooden walkways that have been providing  a stable walking surface for the last 10 years were replaced by lovely new concrete, and new concrete walkways along the new chicken runs has made life a whole lot smoother.

Who doesn’t love dreaming and shopping for new breed stock?

A 95% Gotland ram became available and I couldn’t say no to having my own ram, and one with the Swedish genetics I coveted, so Big John came to live with the ewes. After seeing the trauma that ewes go through with AI, I will stick to natural breeding. Hopefully all the ewes are bred and will give us a split between meat and fleece lambs.

Delaware and Svart Hona chickens were on the goal list, but those breeds didn’t make it. Instead, I invested in two more Standard Cornish hens after selling out of every chick and egg the other Cornish hens produced. I’m not sure this trio will be able to keep up, but I now have a good source of excellent genetics  that are relatively close. Both Birchen Marans roosters were a disappointment: no fertile eggs. The hens did not lay many eggs at all in the first place, so between the two issues, the hens went into genpop and the roosters were processed. They may be a possibility down the line, but not now.

The Farmer’s Market sales were 100% successful, as were the pumpkin and processed chickens sales.

I received a batch of Black Jersey Giant chicks from a breeder who needed to place them, and so my consideration of whether to do full-size or Midget White turkeys was solved. I didn’t know how big they would get, but they grew very well and looked so pretty in the sunlight. After processing, the average carcass of the 8-month-olds was 7.5 pounds. A very good return, and the meat was firm and sweet. I kept three of the hens to keep in with the Barbizieux, and if their chicks can put on a bit more meat and be less flighty, I’ll keep the mix.

The goals for vermin control continue. The new chicken shelters were built with an eye for preventing entry at more than point and it seems to  discourage rats from living inside the coops. They do love to bury under them, though. Ally and Bella are becoming very keen ratters, so we will continue to encourage that behavior.

Though it was not a goal, I managed to attend a couple of pig and sheep butchery classes. Seeing in person how to dispatch larger animals, and then to break the carcasses down to smaller parts was very valuable, as was the opportunity to talk with other smallholders about all kinds of things.

Overall, it is good to see, in writing, that the plans I thought were just a bit ambitious came through and give me the confidence to plan more for 2017.

Here is what will be included:

The Baker Creek Seeds catalog is a thing of beauty. I was going to order some seeds, but their photos and descriptions were so delicious that I had to have (almost) all of them! Not really. But a good deal more than I thought I was going to order. We should have some rare and heirloom tomato starts for pre-order and then for sale in the very early spring, some very rare beans from 1,500 year-old seedstock, some delicious-sounding peas and melons, rare Morning Glory seeds from remote Japanese villages,  giant sunflowers that will have a space all to themselves and lots of nectar and pollen-producing plants to help the pollinators.

The does should also be bred for dapples of all colors and some solids, too. Any bucklings not reserved will be wethered and any not sold for 4-H or FFA will be meat. We will try to market the kids for ethnic celebrations first, and consider introducing Kiko goats if that goes well. Outside of an outstanding black or black-dappled doe, I don’t plan on  retaining any of the kids so if that is a wishlist of yours, please contact me for  pedigree check and reservation.

The sheep should also all be bred. Dafne didn’t carry any lambs last year, so if she does not settle this year, she will be sold for fleece.I especially look forward to Elinor’s lambs, as Zipper, her daughter, has outstanding fleece and John is a fleece improver.

Building wise, the sheep will get a shearing shed, the goats will get a small barn and I am already recycling parts of the wood walkways for a retaining wall-planter that will define the backyard and drastically reduce the amount of random grassy area I have to mow. It’s drain field, so I can’t use the space to plant anything and I have decided to just gravel it and decorate as best I can with annuals.

The Barbizieux in the north pasture will get a coop, too, though I doubt they will use it. Despite a very nice A-frame shelter with lovely straw, they roost in the open on top of a metal cattle panel. When it snows, they are little white lumps. Hopefully in time, they will see the folly of their gamebird ways and sleep inside.

The Barb’s coop will be a project for a beginner’s building class I will present. It’s a simple structure and I want the students to be able to go home and build whatever outbuilding they need for their animals with confidence.

Travel-wise, I am planning to attend the Heirloom Expo in California in September and complete a library of videos on stock care, which will take me to lots of cool farms and producer’s operations. If I can swing it, I have my eye on a Gotland sheep smallholding in Scotland. I’ll never miss an opportunity to go to Scotland!

More targeted marketing in 2017 should bring more customers. This will mean getting the NPIP  certification for the chickens and CL/CAE/Johnnes blood testing for the goats.


If 2016 taught me anything, it’s to dream big and then take little bites out of that dream til it’s accomplished. Keep a written account of progress and look at it every now and then. Take a day off, or two especially in the busy season. Remember why you are doing this. Spend some time with your goats/sheep/dogs/chickens/rabbits/pigs. They are good company.

Happy New Year.



Revenge of the mint

I love all the mints: lemon, orange, spear, chocolate, pepper and pineapple. I love them when the hot sun warms them up and the air is filled with their scent.
I’ve allowed them free rein in most areas of my yard, especially in a little bark mound in the back.
It’s there that they took full advantage of my fondness for them and began sending scouts out, into the surrounding rockbeds, and bark, and planters. Their adorable little flowers smiled at me when I walked by and when I was asked by my gardener if he should clear them away I said “No!”

Because I loved them.

The little scouts became larger tufts of cream-edged greenery, growing cautiously taller and spreading out to begin covering part of the walkway. Soon, there were more than just one or two large shrubberies. Emboldened, those sent out their own emissaries to establish new colonies farther and farther away from the original pant, and certainly in places they had no business being in. I promised to have the gardener address the misfit plantlings at his next opportunity.
So that opportunity has been pending for awhile now. The gardener was not available on one weekend in August, and then he didn’t show up for the next one, and then he was on vacation…..well it’s September now and he still is unavailable and the mint has taken up audacious residence all over. Did they not realize their precarious position? Were they relying on the impatience of a human to not actually pick each tiny stem in order to restore order? Suddenly, I felt taunted and very taken advantage of.

I usually use a five-gallon Home Depot bucket when I weed; it’s just the right size so that, when full, I’ve done about 30-45 minutes of weeding. And that’s enough for anyone.

This job was well beyond a five-gallon bucket.

I got a dump cart, a spade, gloves and started at one end of the walkway. Mint is so weak, with just one little taproot and short sidesprouts. I had the dumpcart filled in no time and of to the compost pile. The bigger shrubs still pulled easily and smelled so good whizzing through the air to the cart. I didn’t even bother shaking off the clumps of dirt and gravel, since I would have to move it anyway for a planned sidewalk extension. The plants on the edge of the rockery had more tenacity, winding their root down and around small boulders. I prevailed, levering the rocks out of the way and using the spade to loosen the soil. Lots of dead leaves here from seasons past. There were so many sprouts! So many more than what I initially thought. Perhaps the larger shrubs were attempting to  shield the little ones to promote the species. No worries, I bent down and pulled all the single-stem plantlings and off they went to the compost pile.

I was down to an empty wheelbarrow and just about one more wheelbarrow of mint to go before I could call it done. I had found a couple of plants that were surprisingly resistant to being moved to the compost pile, almost as if they belonged there. And the scent was fading; perhaps I was not receptive anymore because of the amount of work I had to do to in order to smell the minty-citrusy freshness, or maybe as older plants, mint just gets tired of being so minty all the time. But it all went onto the cart and with the exception of a few dozen really tiny plants (that I would either leave to winter’s cruelty or get in a few weeks when they were big enough to bother with), I felt a new sense of spartanness and order. A good end to a few hours of work.

The next day, I realized how the mint had drawn me in. “Pick me! Pick me!” each one whispered to me. And I did. I picked them all, bending low, grabbing and pulling, and shuffling forward to more easy-to-pull plants. I rarely straightened up, because there was just one more a finger’s length away. And that fading mint scent? By that time, of course I wouldn’t need any scent, lovely or not, to make me want to be close to it. I was clearing the black gravel of invading green plant life, and they stood out so clearly on that matte background.

The place in my back where I pulled a muscle long ago doing deadlifts came to life again: I could not roll over in bed, could not move my leg without excruciating pain, and could not imagine even trying to sit up. Eventually, I did though and then I learned the new pains that the mint had fashioned for me. The rest of my back and shoulders, having been made to perform under strain for hours the day before, now refused to move into any position. Stand up? No way. Stretch? LoL. And don’t even think about walking.
I carefully slid along the carpet to my closet, trying not to lift my left leg off the floor, because the hip flexor was the insertion point for the nerve bundle in my spine. I made it to the Tylenol bottle and chewed 2000 milligrams.

I thought about how easy pulling all that mint was, how lightly I had taken this pleasant herb. I knew those sprigs were still out there, probably smirking at the thought that they would not be compost-fodder this week. How could they be? Their tormentor could not move. Their brethren had given their lives for them. it was up to them to live fast, to throw out new sprigs, to scatter and spread.

In the end, the largest targets paid the heaviest price. Only I know that the juvenile plants (who must believe I somehow overlooked them) now enjoying more sunshine will eventually fall victim to a slab of concrete when the sidewalk gets widened. I am happy to allow them to grow until then, because after all, I do need to be able to move.



Poultry and Politics

I have had a lot of people ask me about how and what I feed my animals. At the Farmer’s Market, customers are most concerned with how the laying hens are treated because that, in their minds, is a measure of the quality of the eggs. When the Barbizieuxs and Cornish are ready for processing, their lives in the preceding ten months or so will determine the carcass quality and in turn, justify the price-per-pound.

On the Facebook pages I follow, there is a wide variety of opinions about what sort of feed is best: specialty non-GMO organics, particular brands, “live” feed, sprouted or fermented, etc.

Just like with other pet foods, there are companies who manufacture ready-to-use feeds under less than ideal circumstances or with vague “by-product” ingredients, but are able to sell that product for much less than their competitors. And that’s really the point of capitalism: producing something at a price the market will bear. I could totally seek out a supplier of whole grains who uses non-GMO seeds, never sprays their fields with any pesticides or ripening agents, only allows rainwater on their fields and hand-harvests. I can’t imagine what that would sell for, but I do know I couldn’t afford it, and my customers couldn’t afford to buy poultry fed on that grain.

My feeding philosophy aligns with the mission of the Farm as closely as possible, as often as possible: use the feed and feeding techniques that the animal would seek out in their native habitat, and adjust for deficiencies. With the Swedish Flowers, they are a very hardy landrace breed and naturally foraged for centuries, so they are well-suited to roam the Farm with minimal feed assistance in the rainy winter months. The other layers have a single treadle feeder to go to if they just can’t bring themselves to forage, but  as foraging is a learned behavior, the whole layer flock now knows where the best bugs can be found, how to dust bathe and how to naturally scratch and peck. I supplement more bagged feed in the winter more for myself I suppose, but it’s working so far.

The meat breeds, Cornish, Barbs, Chantecler and Jersey Giants, have greater protein needs and therefore would require a larger foraging area. The Giants, being a temporary breed this year, will be released into the north pasture where the sheep are grazing, as this is a much larger area with a more diverse micro environment. I expect well-muscled, proportioned birds for the holidays. The other flocks get Game Bird feather conditioner feed and whole or rolled grains free feed, with wild bird seed mixed in every other feed purchase. This gives them a wide variety and allows for personal taste, if chickens have such a thing.

So all this leads me to the point of the essay: I have developed a feed recipe and schedule that I can support financially and ethically, and that won’t preclude the majority of my customers from being able to buy a premium bird. Someone just starting out might look at what I am able to do and think they can’t raise chickens because it’s too complicated, or too expensive. They have read or been told that a store brand is unacceptable, that Purina uses GMO grains and therefore is not good for the planet in some way, or that the chickens will know the difference between feed packaged in a natural sisal bag and a plastic bag.

This sort of bias does a disservice to people wanting to learn how to provide for themselves and their families. One of my customers remarked recently that people under 50 don’t know what a “real” chicken tastes like: one taken from the yard where it received a handful of left-over corn harvested from the farmer’s field in addition to having to hunt for live prey, slaughtered and cooked the same day. The big factory farms are big for a reason: they are able to produce the most for the least, and that means feeding chickens the cheapest food, supplemented with ingredients to make them grow more quickly and produce more preferred meat, for the widest customer base. I don’t have an obligation to ship WalMart 50,000 packages of whole chickens every month. I can commit to selling 45 meat chickens free-ranged on pasture without antibiotics or hormones, humanely slaughtered and packaged in time for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Because I am where I am at in my Farm adventure, I am aware that one of my unspoken responsibilities is to pass along what I have learned so that other people can start to make their own way as well. If all they can afford is Producer’s Pride feed for their three laying hens, then they should buy that. If that means they can provide something better for their family than what they can get at the grocery store, that’s great! Hopefully, they will want to improve their practices and expand their operation so that they can have better eggs, or more eggs, or both. But when more experienced farmers denigrate the choices first-timers make or intimate that they must start with only the best feed and equipment, they can not only prevent a potential small business from starting up, but also limit breed diversity, innovative development and quality experimentation.

I appreciate those farmers who have the time and inclination to fiddle with new types of feeding equipment specially suited to small operations, using crop rotation and pastures more efficiently and increasing the populations of critically threatened or heritage breeds. None of that is possible if that person is discouraged from ever starting.

Politics. Where to begin?

I have been through 10 voting cycles and have voted in every one of them. I can’t say I’ve paid attention to the rhetoric of the particular candidates or the circumstances of the campaigns for the first 5. And except for the last 3 elections, I could have only recited the “facts” I heard on the news.

I had other things to worry about.

The 2016 election, though, I have had time and interest to listen to the candidates, the pundits, the scandals and the opinions. It can be overwhelming and depressing. I know people have strong opinions about Fox Broadcasting personality Bill O’Reilly, but one thing he said made everything about the election, on both sides, crystal clear.

He was talking about his series, “Legends and Lies: The Patriots.” In his description of the first show, he said that when George Washington was offered a lifetime appointment as President (in effect making him a king), he refused and instead relinquished the office to his successor, as indicated by the will of the people. This was, and has continued to be an example of why America is unique from other regimes and empires. Despite sometimes discordant differences of opinion, personal insults, allegations and shenanigans by support organizations, we transfer our power peacefully and regularly. I don’t believe this is an accident. Our country overcame tremendous odds to secure independence from our original culture in a dangerous and unexplored land. America is divinely blessed in so many ways, and remains so despite the efforts of some individuals throughout our history to change our destiny.

This election, the two leading candidates (and I use that term loosely) can only really try to divert attention away from their past personal decision and actions long enough to eek out a “win”. Each side’s opposition claims that the other will be the Worst.Thing.Ever. for the country and we will all devolve into anarchy should they be elected. I don’t believe that is true at all. One person, even if they are the acknowledged leader of the country, has such little influence on the day-to-day lives of American citizens that it’s almost as though we just need someone to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to justify keeping the air conditioning on.  Markedly different from nations where a single man (it hasn’t been a woman for hundreds of years) can make a declaration that can plunge every citizen into poverty, or prison, our President can’t just wave his or her hand and make all 200 million of us bow to their will. I can’t name the last Executive Order that President Obama signed or how it might someday impact my life. I’ve been doing the same job for the last 25 years, lived at the same place for the last 10 years and can freely plan to carry out the dreams that I have, all without thinking once about who is President or fear how they might change my life.

America is what she is because of her people. I believe God placed certain people in positions to both promote America and hold us back, according to His plan. Though I have already voted a preference for this election, if the candidate I voted for doesn’t win, I’m not moving to Canada. I’m going to go forward with my Farm and trust that what I need I’ll have, and I’ll be able to expand and prosper so I can pass that along to other smallholders, and we can all prosper together.