Apple Trees and Goats

We always bury our goats under the apple trees. The tree gets nourished by the goat body. The grass always grows really well there. Then the goats get to eat the apples and the grass. Then the goats make more goats. On and on it goes. This year we have had to bury two so far. Its part of farm life. Really its part of all life. Its a part that not everyone gets to participate in as much as they should. Its the part that makes farmers such great people. If people knew how fragile and precious life is maybe they would respect it more. Its not until you see death that you really appreciate life. This week i had the privilege of standing out side in the crisp morning air with my three daughters as we cried about a baby goat that had died over the night. No matter how many times it happens it always pulls on your heart some. Being the dad and the main farm manager its hard to not feel responsible for all the bad that happens but some times its out of my hands. I dont always have the answers and when it comes to baby goats dieing I really do not have any answers. If it was up to me they would all live.

We also had the same mom goat get really sick and we almost lost her. Luckily we were able to bring her back. She seems to be doing really well now. For the farmers out there. I used a drench of vit C, and probios. Then I gave her b12 injections every 8 hours. Now she is on free choice seaweed meal, high quality grain, and hay. She went from laying on her back and foaming at the mouth to standing and grazing in about 24 hours.

We have also had lots of new life on the farm. We have had three new babies born this week. It seemed like every time we came home a new baby had been born. This is such an exciting time of year. Plus soon we will have fresh goats milk.
Eliza Feeding comforting the moma

This little girl is just hours old.

Bottle feeding the babies while the moma gets better.

 These little guys are just hours old.


What's a working farm?

It has come to our attention that we may never actually have a farm that is our major source of income. It's a bit of a drag really, and based on our experience has more to do with sustainability than anything else. Are there people making money? Absolutely. But, from what we've seen it's people who don't have mortgages on their homes and have money to invest in infrastructure and equipment. We don't. Or, at least we didn't. And we spent years figuring out how to even get our hands on some land.
Our hope is not to discourage anyone from striving for their farm dream--but we do hope to encourage MORE people to reach for their homestead dreams, because ultimately we're all more sustainable if we're all more sustainable. Go ahead, read that line again. But, homestead dreams are different than farm dreams...

What's that? You think if you had free-range chickens fed the finest of non-gmo, organic, local grains you could charge a fair price and get it? There's a demand for that? Well, we've done the math. And, if you're doing good, breaking even seems fair. After all, the feed is paid for when selling those egg-cess eggs, but the person willing to pay $8/dozen is hard to come by. But, that is the the market value of a dozen of our eggs. Probably more if we included a fair labor wage. We're thrilled to feed our children eggs worth upwards of $8/dozen because they're worth it. But, not so many parents think so simply because they can't afford it.
Again, take heart--do not be dissuaded. We are all in this boat together. The value of food in modern society is tragically lost. Don't even get me started on what we would have to charge per pound of chicken meat to earn anything remotely resembling a profit. We're thrilled to give our children the experience of being sustainable--that's the real payday. But we've had to admit, there would be no way to sell to markets. Direct to consumer sales are the only small possibility. But alas, then there's marketing fees and more time investment. Our chicken is good. We've ironed out the kinks and it's mighty tasty and something to be proud of, and we're fortunate to have a freezer full. For ourselves. On occasion we sell--heck, maybe one day we will owe zero dollars and have the infrastructure and healthy soil and fields it requires to do everything from hatch to feed these birds on our own...but still, that's a lot of investment. Still the goal, to have that for future generations. But, for our generation we are only beginning and need to be realistic.

You'll find books and farmers out there saying it's totally doable. But, they're usually selling a book. Who's going to buy the book we write about the impossibility? Books fund farms. So...maybe we should be less dreary and more optimistic to get those of you like us to buy it. It's ok not to believe in that possibility. It's ok to realize that things will have to be seriously altered, head-over-heels style, to make people realize the value of their food. And even then--even if education weren't the only hang-up, it'd still have to be a 'labor of love' because there's no retirement plan for the farm-income.
At the most recent Sustainable Agriculture Conference in SC we heard from Mark Shepard. It was great, inspirational, thought-provoking. But, he said some things that were very meaningful to me that many seemed to overlook. Mark Shepard has some great books, including Restoration Agriculture. It's an amazing read, and his property in the mid-west is like an Eden in a desert of corn. He has restored balance and harmony on his acreage in a way that is far beyond just sustainable. For years he will be set in produce and bountiful pasture for his livestock and more importantly, his children. It's brilliant and as the title implies, revolutionary. But, he didn't talk about how much money he makes from his farm. In fact, that was sort of brushed aside. What he did mention was as sustainable agriculture revolutionaries we need to get in on the ground floor of something. For him, as one of the founding members of Organic Valley, a dairy co-operative, he has an income to aid in the building of his farm. A reliable source of profit. He isn't just a farmer, he's a business man and the author of popular permaculture literature. He earns residuals.

What was our take away from that? Hope! Being in the midst of starting a farmstead, doing the math on installing fences and raising barns, let alone acquiring decent livestock and feeding them, you quickly become overwhelmed. (and we've done this all without heavy equipment so far, don't get us started on that investment!) Not to mention having bought a foreclosure or some cheap piece of land to get you started because you didn't inherit the back 20, or a trust fund...Well, that can all be disheartening, overwhelming and even dangerously expensive. A debtor's hay day. It wouldn't take a great salesman to talk a person like this into the overhead of a tractor at x.y% apr. Debt and farming are like synonyms this day and age. But--that's not sustainable either, and it's certainly not good news for our kids.

So, where did I find hope in this speech from Mr. Shepard? 2 places actually.
1. 'Get in on the ground floor of something.' 
Thank goodness! We have done that and are passionate about that work, and the movement it is creating. (Great news, there's plenty more room for others to get in on this, and we'd love to have you. Talk to us about what that looks like!) But, the key is: find something that you're similarly passionate about and use it to fund your farm dream. It's totally possible. Just don't quit- be willing to sacrifice your immediate comfort for the long term satisfaction.

2. We're all more sustainable if we're all more sustainable.
Think about that for a while. What if you didn't have to DO everything, because your neighbor did the eggs and you do the milk and across the street they raise goats and you garden-swap weekly. And you share equipment costs and trade canned goods...What if THAT'S the goal we we were all working toward.What if you could go on vacation because you had a trustworthy network of folks who could pick up the slack for a week? The ultimate co-op. And really, it's the only sustainable model there is. Sure, it's a stretch based on modern culture, but it doesn't have to be. This is how it WAS and is in some places. Even in the city this is the perfect solution. Heck, one guy could be the chiropractor, or the midwife...it all sounds heavenly to me. If there's one thing we've learned is this earth of ours is bountiful, plentiful. Everybody can thrive.
creating revenue on a homestead
At the rate our dreams are growing I don't doubt we will see this movement in our lifetime. We don't expect our grandchildren to know much different. So, first: fund your dream with something you love. Let your farm be your why in whatever it is that will get you there, but release the stress of thinking sustainable means profits, it doesn't. It means enough for everyone. We're all more sustainable if we're all more sustainable. Find your profits somewhere else. That is all.


The woodstove

"Firewood warms you twice, once when you cut it and again when you burn it." - some lumberjack
At the end of this summer we got a wood stove for heating the house. It has been a learning adventure. There is a famous permaculture guru Geoff Lawton that says with traditional wood stoves you will always "be a slave to your heating source" He is a firm believer in using rocket mass heaters or masonry heaters. We explored both of these for a while and decided that at this point it was just not safe to have a rocket stove in the house and a masonry stove is just to expensive. So we went with the most efficient stove that we could afford.

On our property we have a lot of woods. In fact the majority of it is woods. Did you know that if you cut a tree down split it and stick it in the wood stove it will not burn? So this year we are not going to be able to use the firewood from our property. We need wood that is seasoned and dry. It needs to be seasoned for year or more before it can be burned in the wood stove. Anything less just smolders in the stove and does nothing good. I had no idea that this would be a problem, but it is. So I built a large wood shed that will hold a little over four cords of wood. So now for the "slavery" part. I will be collecting wood to fill that shed for the rest of the winter. Not only collecting it but splitting it, stacking it, letting it season, then carrying it to the house to burn. 

The main reason that we leaned towards burning wood, is that it is a renewable resource. With proper management we should always have a power free option for heating the house. If we add this with other sources of heat like passive solar, and a solar water heater, we should be able to drastically diminish our power consumption.

While we are speaking of cold. We had also had a new arrival on the farm. We had no idea that Dot the mom was even expecting. Then  around 2am on the 14th we heard a goat crying. When i went down to the goat house to see what was going on i found that Polka Rose had been born. She is the sweetest little goat. They are Kiko goats that we got from a friend. The mom is really sweet and good natured. Im not sure if it is just a Kiko trait or just her, but either way they are both really sweet. 


Winter is leaving

This is the time of year that I look forward to. Some would say we are deep in winter. But all I can think is that Spring is near. We have been busy making new shelters. Putting up more fences, building a woodshed, planning and preparing the garden for spring. 

There will be baby goats in two and a half months and we hope to have at least four goats that will be milking this year. If you have never had goats milk before all the rumors of it tasting really bad are simply not true. Our little heard makes some of the sweetest milk I have ever tasted. Its way better than cows milk. Thanks to our wonderful and sometimes creepily friendly Sire "Uncle Buck" we should have some great little kids. Uncle buck will follow you all around the farm. Most goats will, but most goats follow you because they want you to feed them. Not so with this little guy he follows you around because in general he enjoys your company. By the look on his face he really thinks you enjoy his too. It is pretty fun to have a goat that likes me for me. Not just for the food I provide.

In  three months it will be time to start another batch of broilers. At the end of this year I had vowed to never raise meat chickens (broilers) again. We had decided a while ago that we would never do cornish cross because of the ethics of raising such a breed. So we tried a few different types of heritage broilers. Jersey Giants and Delawares, both with promising reviews of giving great carcasses. We fed them well and let them go well past the twelve week mark but every time we were greatly disappointed with the size. In general the finished size was in the two pounds and that was sadly mainly bones. This year the last batch we did on a whim of desperation was the freedom rangers.  They were great. Really friendly, very healthy, and finished around four pounds. In the spring we will be getting another batch of these guys to raise.

Our Great Pyrenees Rutabaga

The seed catalogs are in. We have the garden planned. We can see some of the garlic starting to sprout out of the heavy mulch. We will be expanding the garden again this year. Hopefully to add another five or six rows. 

We added some new pasture for the goats. This time we went away from the traditional woven wire fencing and used hi-tensile wire fencing. We did six strands that so far seem to be keeping everyone in. The first day that we let them into the new area things did not go so well. One after another they would do up to the fence get shocked and jump through. But it seemed that all they needed was the shock. Since then no one has tried to go through and they all keep their distance from the wires. If it continues to work we will be adding new sections back into the woods on the other side of the pond. Its our goal to start clearing out that section next.

The other thing that we added was a new feeding station for the goats. Since we keep our hay and feed at our shed it seemed really crazy to carry it all the way down the hill. So now just across from the shed we can feed the goats under a roof. It also has a hay feeder that will hold three bales of hay at a time so we don't have to fill it every day. We plan to collect the rain water off the roof into a small pond for the goats to drink.

We still have perennials to plant, more fences to build, a barn to put up, a woodshed to fill with firewood and more pasture area to make for the chickens. This has been a busy winter so far and looks like it will continue to be. 

 It is time to prepare for the coming life of spring.

What are you doing to get ready for spring?