Thursday, July 21, 2011


The fencing project, phase 1, is complete! We dozed the fence rows and easement paths, then fenced and cross-fenced around 4 acres. Now we will have two paddocks for rotational grazing, just as soon as the goats clear out the undergrowth, and we can doze and till it for planting pasture grass. We hope to have some fledgling pasture by next spring and perhaps a milk cow soon after. Our rented pasture is great, but it will be so nice to have our chickens and turkeys at home!

Sunday, March 27, 2011


The farm is in full swing!  We are shaking off the ache of the cold, cold winter and working hard to make the soil bring forth new life.  We have started some seedlings of Pak Choy, Tomatoes, Green Peppers, and Zinnias.  We are planning on transplanting those seedlings into our rubber lumber, raised beds.  (More on that later.)  We like to get the most out of the farm, so everything has to have multiple uses.  As you have read from other posts, we still have some heritage turkeys wandering around the farm.  They do not like to stay in the yard we have fenced in for their protection, it seems they enjoy our company too much.  Due to their wandering ways, we have our own egg hunts searching for where they have laid them most recently.  Once we find some of their eggs we use them for breads, muffins, and brownies.  As for taste, there is not much difference between turkey and chicken (wink, wink), but the shape of the turkey egg has a more pronounced point at one end.  They also have a much harder shell, so breaking them into mixes can be a little tricky.  So far that is the only thing keeping them around on the farm.  I want to go ahead and slaughter them, but the family has me out-numbered on touting their usefulness.  I feel like the Dread Pirate Roberts - when I see the turkeys at evening I tell them, "Goodnight!  I will most likely kill you in the morning."  Maybe the next time the kids leave for the day, I might just act with decisiveness.    
Two of the most recent Turkey eggs.

As for the rubber lumber, raised beds, we discovered a great site concerning sustainable agriculture.  Check out the Noble Foundation here.  Our newest venture is building raised beds from rubber lumber.  Did you know that most tire places will give you old tires?  I've heard old farmers tell me to plant potatoes in old tires by planting potatoes in one tire, then stacking another tire on top and filling it with more dirt.  One older guy told me he had stacked four tires high with potatoes!  Our plan for the raised beds is to cut the steel belting off and use the tread for "walls" on the raised beds.  We will post some pictures as soon as we get some tires.  It doesn't take a farmer to re-purpose items, you can do it at your home as well.  It just takes some interest and desire to re-purpose something rather than throwing it away.  Take a small step towards being more sustainable and environmentally responsible.  If you have any ideas to share with us, please either comment or email us with your ideas.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spring is here

With the warm weather we decided to start some spring planting. I hope we haven't jumped the gun, since we planted everything the temperature has dropped down to the mid 30's. So far everything is still alive, but we are watching them closely. The kids all pitched in and helped to plant lettuce mix, spinach, and brussels sprouts. The kids worked together with a minimum of fighting and with only a few leaves of lettuce missing. Hopefully, I can sell all the brussels sprouts so I don't have to eat any.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Battle against nature

When God created Adam, he charged him with a mission. He was to take dominion over the birds in the air, the animals upon the ground, and the land itself. (Gen. 1:26) Sometimes it feels that those things didn't get the message that we are to have dominion over them. For example, we tried to grow some broilers over the winter, because I AM MAN! That turned out to be a horrible failure. So we waited until the weather got warmer, in February mind you, and tried again. The first week of their little lives, we had a huge snow storm, we actually had snow on the ground when they came in the mail. But they survived the week and I started to think I actually knew what I was doing. Then during their second week of life, I realized that I in fact did not know what I was doing and the chickens started dying in bunches. Birds tend to pile up and crush the ones underneath the pile. It's like a chicken version of king of the mountain, only instead of a hill of dirt, they get on top of one another until they form a pile of chickens. It's really sad when you come out in the morning and there is a pile of them crushed down. Usually at that time it's warm enough that the survivors are just milling around like nothing happened.

A fellow farmer once told me, "Once they start piling up, ain't nothing you can do to stop 'em." Now I just assumed he was exaggerating - he was not. I put waterers and cans and various objects and they would just pile as close to that original spot as they could. It's like they just wanted some warmth, just for a moment until the weight of their brothers slowly crush them. As I have stated before, I don't really know what I'm doing. So I started reading about hovers and I built one out of an old, slightly broken plastic crate.

Here is the basic approach. The chickens need about 90 degree ambient temp or they get too cold and die. One of the hardest things to do is to heat up a room to 90 degrees, especially when the outside air temp is in the low 30s. So when it gets too cold they huddle, wouldn't you? They also tend to dig into the bedding a little which will make a slight depression. More chickens want to get into the middle where it is warmer so they keep jumping into the middle and piling on top of one another. The little guys in the middle get warm, but usually get crushed as an end result. The hover does two things: it reduces the amount of air you have to heat up and it allows the chickens to move in and out of the warming area. I used a large plastic crate and cut holes in the side for the heat lamps. I turned it upside down and set it on bricks. This allows the heat lamps to heat up the air inside the crate, and since it is upside down the heat is trapped in the crate. It's up on bricks so the chickens can come and go - in and out of the crate without piling.

Here are a couple of pictures to help you see what we're doing. The first picture is in the daylight, so not many are under the crate. The second one is at night, so they are almost all under there. The last one is a bird's eye view.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Got Goat?

Living on the farm has its highs and lows. You have a plan and you think it is simple, like buy a goat so you can get some goat milk. Buy her young enough that you can raise her to be docile and friendly around people. The reality is that you buy her and two days later she finds a way to escape out of a 5 foot tall fence leading the whole family on a chase that ends with her running freely into the state park area. Really? We can’t even keep her for two days? I was so mad that we spent money on something that has now run away without any benefit gained. My wife and the girls were sad that she had run away because she will die all alone out there. The boys’ reaction? They asked if we can throw the football around in the front yard.

We all had a measure of hope that she would wander back onto the property, but the first night after she ran away we were awakened to the sound of a pack of coyotes yelping and carrying on. The dog was barking in the house at the racket which only added to the confusion of the early hour and all the noise finally roused me from my slumber--that and Sarah pushing me out of the bed. Immediately I think of two scenarios, they are after the goat who has finally come home or they are after the chickens. I get up and try to find the following items: a working flashlight, the .22 rifle, some bullets, and finally a sweatshirt. (Pants were too difficult to find so they were left off the list.) About this time I hear our dog barking outside. How did the dog get outside? My youngest daughter wanders into our bedroom and says, “I heard him barking and I thought he wanted outside.” I, squinting and trying to put all this information together at 3:30am respond, “But there is a pack of coyotes out there. What if the dog was barking because someone was outside and you just opened the door?” She responds with the response of every child when they realize they have done something without thinking – “Oh.”

So I take off in the direction of the chickens wearing my trusty boots, no pants and a sweatshirt. The .22 rifle is a single shot. I have that in my right hand; left hand contains the flashlight with an additional 4 bullets in the same hand. I can’t hear the coyotes anymore, but I also can’t hear the dog. So I’m wondering what kind of massacre I’m going to come upon out there. I check the chickens while calling out for the dog. The dog comes running up and doesn’t appear to have any injuries. The chickens are all safe and sound and I don’t find a goat or a carcass. I just assume the coyotes have carried it off or were coming around to taunt us about their conquest. I crawl back into bed thinking the goat is gone and upset that I have both spent money and now wasted sleep on this no-good animal.

The next day we are driving home from a quick errand on the mountain. At that exact moment, standing in the middle of the road is the goat. She looks right at me as if to say, “Have a little faith, man!” The miracle here is that this was the only time we had left the house all day and at that exact moment the goat is in the middle of the road. Five minutes earlier or later and I don’t think we see her. Ethan and Avery were with me and so I tell them to jump out and see if we can corner her in the middle of this country road with open woods on both sides. She starts to run up the road, which is good because this is where our house is. I’m driving slowly ahead calling the goat, while the kids are behind her gently encouraging her to keep going and trying to keep her on the road. As we approach our driveway, I call Sarah and tell her to bring everyone that can run and to bring the catch-net. Now the catch-net is just a fishnet, but it is big enough to go around her – at least I think it is, because I have never actually gotten close enough to her to net her.

Our slow moving caravan gets to the entrance of our driveway. Our driveway is almost directly across from the driveway to the state park’s Turtle Rocks. (Yes, this is the rock formation where we get our farm name.) At this point, I see the goat almost thinking. It’s a goat, so we have to use “thinking” in the broadest sense, but after waiting for the whole family to make an appearance and to start to have hope - she breaks towards the Turtle Rocks. I give chase at a full sprint. She is running just fast enough that I can almost touch her, but I can’t get close enough to grab her. While she is taunting me with how close I am to her, all I can think about is the nursery rhyme about the ginger bread man. I cut her off before she gets too far down the mountain ridge and await the reinforcements. Sarah comes with the catch-net, but now we are in thick underbrush and those razor vines are everywhere. I thrash through the thorny vines while trying to coordinate the troops’ movements. Every time we get close and try to close in the circle she bolts through a gap. We again lose sight of her and everyone is crestfallen as we all are thinking the same thing – “That was our only chance.”

At this point I have written the goat off. I have marked off the money spent as a total loss and I’m not even thinking about her. The goat has been lost for seven days now and our aunt Helen comes for a surprise visit. We decide to take her to see the Turtle Rocks and Ethan comes running up to tell us they found the goat. Everyone goes running, except for me. Remember, I have written her off and I already know how this story ends as we have played it out two times in a row. But the kids seem excited as well as the 25 or so hikers milling around on the Turtle Rocks and by the Rock House Cave. So I run home, get some food and the catch-net and drive over to the entrance of the Turtle Rocks. The Turtle Rocks lead to a cliff face with about a 30 or so foot drop down to the Rock House Cave. So now we have an audience of hikers up on the Turtle Rocks and down by the Rock House Cave. When I arrive the kids have pushed her to the edge of the cliff. I attempt to climb out where she is and as I make my way along the cliff edge, she gets closer and closer to the edge. She actually starts to crouch in order to make a jump, only the next cliff face is about 20 or so feet away. Even for a goat this seems like a stretch. I look directly below me at 5 hikers looking straight up and they seem like they would make a most comfy landing for the goat if she does jump. I cling to a tree and lean out with the catch-net in hopes of pushing her away from the cliff face. Now my imagination begins to run through the following scenarios: 1. She takes the plunge off the cliff face and dies in front of 10 families with children all around. 2. She jumps at the moment I get the net on her and she either pulls me off the cliff or she plunges down in a net into the families below. 3. She runs back off the cliff face and gets away. Which option would you try for? I swing the net out as far away from the cliff face and try to net her as she retreats from the cliff face, only the net gets caught in the brambles. All I can do is watch as the net is tangled and she ducks through the brambles and jukes a helper out of his shorts. She’s gone. Maybe it was all the observers or maybe it was just me accepting the inevitable, but I stay amazingly calm and just shrug as she runs off. We are now 0-3, and I’m ready to go home and eat. The kids have a little more resolve and continue the chase. I stop to chat with some campers about the crazy, wild goat, when I hear shouts of “Ethan got her!” I am still doubting the truth of the statement and figuring that Ethan has her cornered or that maybe he can see her on a rock. As I make my way through a narrow rock opening - there is the hero, Ethan lying on top of her holding her in a bear-hug.

Ethan, you the MAN! Campers were asking to take pictures of the goat and the hero. Turns out she went into a narrow rock opening and Ethan jumped over the top driving her back into Avery who was trailing them. When the goat reversed course and tried to jump over Ethan he tackled her. It seems all those times when he tackled his younger brothers and pinned them to the ground paid off. As we were walking back with the goat I could see Jude at the top of the cliff face on his knees with his little hands clasped together. As I got up to him, I asked him what he was doing. He replied, “I was praying to God that we would catch her.” He knew he couldn’t keep up with us, so he tried to help in the best way he could. I know that not every prayer is answered in the way we want it to be, but in this case God answered our prayers in the way we wanted. Maybe that was the point of this whole ordeal, to give a young boy some confidence and another one a little more faith.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Turkey Day

Thanksgiving has come and gone and along with it, the broad-breasted whites. I do miss them a little. We actually had fun raising them. I'll miss them pecking at my belt as I came to feed them. I'll miss them "tomming up", our nickname for when they would strut for the ladies. They were so ugly, but when they fluffed up they thought they were beautiful. While we cannot confuse them with smart, they were inquisitive. They would peck at anything on the ground. When we opened up their gizzards we found rocks, glass, and a few screws. The kids got some real life "anatomy and physiology". We still have some heritage breeds and some geese to keep us busy through the holiday season. We wanted to keep back a goose and try it, but the demand has outweighed our supply, so we may have to wait until next year. We did have enough of the broad-breasted whites to smoke one and it was delicious. My mother-in-law cooked a commercial bird in the oven and just so as not to hurt her feelings, we put our turkey out last after the first wave of eaters. It was no contest, all the kin were asking to taste our bird and all we had left was wings and legs. We have received similar compliments from our customers as to the taste of the birds. Overall, it was a success and so it seems we will stay in the turkey business. So until next thanksgiving, remember to be thankful for all you have and for how the Lord has blessed you today.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


I used to teach physics in High School and I was always trying to figure out experiments to demonstrate principles of physics. The farm is good for experimenting with physics as well. We have electric fences for all of our birds out on the farm, this is to protect the birds, but mostly to keep predators out. So far this has not been a problem for me, until recently. I have touched the fence when it is live and it has a little bite to it for sure. Here is where we have to think about the flow of electricity - it will travel to ground. When you grab the fence and have rubber soles on your boots, it just bites a little bit. Not enough to make you pee your pants, but enough to make you let go. I usually just step over the fence rather than unplug it. This time as I swung my leg over I caught my boot in the top wire. I somehow managed to twist my boot at the same time so it became a little tangled. I began hopping on the one foot trying to untangle the boot as I slowly began to get a little more into the fence. Each time I grab the wire to get it untangled, it keeps stinging me with electricity. At this point I am bad off-balance and I start to tumble. Now I have watched my kids fall over the fence many times and it makes me laugh out loud. I actually began to laugh as I fell because I couldn't believe I had gotten this tangled in the fence. Kendall also was lending her laughter to the situation. Here is where my predicament and the kids differ. They would normally trip on the wire and fall into the chicken yard - but clear of the wire. I fell into the yard still attached to the wire. Here is where our lesson on electricity comes back into play. Now if I am touching the wire and at the same time touching ground without any insulation, then where is the "best" path for electricity to flow? That's right - through me. I have seen on Youtube before someone being tased and they make this weird yelping, yelling sound - this is very similar to the sound I start making as I flop, twist and kick at the netting, while the full 8kV courses through me over and over again. Finally my spasms got me loose from the netting and I scrambled to my feet a little rattled. Kendall stared at me open mouthed not sure to laugh or be worried about me. I break into a wide smile and explain how electricity works.