Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ye Olde Blogge

So I've been doing Decityfied for about 19 months now, and I think it's done a great job of documenting our move from the city to the country. Of course, I always wish I could write here daily, but I'm working on it! :)

Since we got the farm legal and running last July, I've been focusing on making a professional, yet approachable brand for the business, so I've decided to include a blog over at the main site.

No, this doesn't mean that I'm doing away with this blog, but the focus will be shifting a bit. I'm going to save this blog for the more personal stuff like how the family is doing or my beliefs on living a simpler life. That dumpster diving post from the other day? That's what I mean. Something like that wouldn't be ideal for a business website, but it's something I still like to write about.

In the meantime, posts about farm projects or those directly relating to the expansion and improvement of the farm will go over on the White Ivy Farm blog. I may cross post a few, like I did with the hog house post earlier, but that's how it will mostly break down.

Oh, by the way... we got a new puppy!

Building a better hog house

For the last ten months or so, our two Yorkshire hogs had been living on an acre pasture, after they ceremoniously defeated our neglected garden earlier in the year. Since then, we've butchered one and the other got lonely so she escaped under some field fence to go play with the donkeys.

We originally put them in a quarter of the acre plot, held in with only 4 strands of barbed wire and some electric fencing that I could never get to work because we have sandy soil and the grounding never worked. We knew it was a gamble, but it was our first year with hogs so we were experimenting. They told us not to just used barbed wire and electric wire. They told us that hogs will bust through just about anything. We didn’t listen, but that’s a re-occurring theme with me, as I’m sure you’ll see.

So yesterday, I gathered up some pallets I collected from a friend (and scavenged) to build a real hog pen that would be cheap, sturdy, and functional.
This sketch shows my initial plan. I measured the length of each pallet and figured out how I was going to fit each one together to make the closest thing to a 10×20 pen. See, all pallets aren’t created equal, and when they’re free, you have to take what you can get. I used the pallets I used last year for my small hog house and made that the one end, while I knew I’d still have to create three more walls and a gate. The entire pen would be created with only pallets and 5 and 6 foot t-posts to hold each pallet in place. I also used a post pounder and a t-post puller, mainly to remove the posts I had set up from the old pen, but also to pull out posts when I put them in the wrong spot.
 I started by placing the first pallet exactly where I wanted it, marking where the t-posts will go with small pieces of cement block I had within reach. Then I’d move the pallet out of the way and pound the t-posts in with a post pounder. The pallets easily slide over the top of the t-posts, making each piece of the wall very secure. Last year the hogs would put all of their weight against these walls to scratch themselves and they never came close to falling over.
 I repeated this all the way around and connected the whole thing on the opposite corner. As you can see from my sketch, the measurements aren’t exact because of the differing pallet sizes, but I got it as close as I could with what I had, so one wall is 11 inches shorter than the other; not really a huge deal to me.
 On the left side, the gate is nothing more than a 38×36 lightweight pallet that can be lifted off the shorter t-posts for entrance or exit. In fact, any of the smaller pallets can be lifted to make a gate. I plan to utilize that fact when I expand by making another pen coming off of this one. It’s a completely modular design that is easily changed or even moved with multiple possibilities for gates. Plus, I can easily add barbed wire to the top of the shorter pallets with t-post clips. Hopefully the hogs will never jump over 36 inches, though.
 If you have any questions about the design or the process, let me know in the comments or our contact form. I’d be happy to go over anything in more detail.

Now to move that hog into her new home…

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My foray into dumpster diving

Sunday night, I fired up Netflix for a movie that had been in my queue for months. The film is called Dive! and it's a documentary all about dumpster diving and why it's important. I've read through forums and specialty sites that showcase these wonderful "dream dives" where people find autographed Brett Favre rookie cards or a first edition Catcher in the Rye, but this movie focuses on food. It explains just how much food is wasted each day by grocery stores that toss it all out on the date of expiration, which is actually an arbitrary date that doesn't mean as much as you think it would.

Excited by this film (I often get so pumped up from these documentaries), I went out to our local(ish) grocery store, looking for a dumpster full of discarded food to feed our animals.

Yeah, sorry. I mean, I really don't have a problem with eating this stuff myself, but I was being more realistic by planning to nab it for our farm animals. With the price of feed skyrocketing more each day, this would be a great solution.

See, dumpster diving is something that I've done on a smaller scale since I was young. My best friend and I used to walk through the alleys of our neighborhood and find all kinds of exciting treasures. Even though we were far from rich (or even middle class), we didn't do it for the value of the treasures, but more for the thrill of the discovery. I felt that thrill again when I jumped in the car and headed into town to see what I could find.

Most of the larger grocery stores and strip malls had either locked dumpsters or trash compactors, which I didn't even attempt to infiltrate. Not only is that extremely dangerous, but it's illegal if you breach a lock.

I finally found a smaller local grocery store with a good old fashioned blue dumpster, ripe for the pickin'. Inside, I found boxes of discarded cabbage, oranges, tomatoes, broccoli, and more. On one side, there was a pile of probably 20-30 still-wrapped bread loaves. I looked around one last time to make sure I was alone, and reached in for those boxes. I could only fit two of those wax produce boxes in the small car's trunk, but I figured that was still a helluva find. I leaned in and grabbed four loaves of bread and an interesting wooden shipping crate that was probably two feet wide. It's not very sturdy, but I thought it looked like something I could use for something down the line. Plus, I was still hopping on adrenaline, so I wanted to get out of there.

Next to the grocery store, a Little Ceasar's pizza joint was closed for the night. I figured it couldn't hurt to pop my head in their dumpster as well. Bingo! You would not believe how many in-tact boxes of pizza were stacked neatly (and some not-so-neatly) in that dumpster. I began opening a few to check the status of the pizzas, and every single box held an entire pizza. There were cheese, pepperoni, ... ugh, I'm making myself hungry. So I only grabbed three boxes, knowing that this probably isn't the best food to be feeding my animals, but I had to give it a shot since there were so many just lying there. I figured the dog might at least get a kick out of them, right?

Once I got home, I tossed one of the pizzas to our outside dog, Smokey. He suspiciously sniffed the pizza for a few minutes and proceeded with his strange ritual of chasing away every single other animal to a safe 50-foot buffer zone before sitting down to enjoy the strange-smelling new food possibility (he does this every single time we feed him dog food, too).

Then I grabbed the two boxes of produce and dumped them into the pig's side. Last week, our darling little pig broke through her fence (she's an expert now) to hang out with the donkeys, so I figured she had to hurry before those guys came running over. It was dark out, so they were all sleeping in the barn still.

The hog nuzzled the produce out of the way to get to those other two pizzas. Apparently she liked those the best, although I won't think about the fact that one of them had pepperoni on it. She devoured the bread next and finally started in on the cabbage and tomatoes.

The next morning, the chickens were pecking through the bits of scrap (the hog isn't fond of onion peels) and I imagine within a few hours, there will be absolutely no trace of any food left.

This whole adventure has made me beyond happy. I was able to grab enough food to apparently make a 200-lb pig full (for a day) and all for probably $2-$3 in gas. Granted, that gas money was mostly spent scouting the area for an hour, so I'll spend much less going straight for my new favorite grocery store's dumpster next time.

Oh yes, there will be a next time.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Well hi there!

Hey, remember me? The guy with that blog about farming? Yeah, I'm still here! Needless to say, it's been a busy few months. And when I say busy, I don't mean busy as in my tennis lessons went over an extra hour or my favorite TV show is back on the air. I mean busy as in this farm stuff is hard work!

Thankfully, Sarah, the girls, and I are still moving forward with our dreams of making this place what we want. At one point in August and September, I was working three jobs (only one of them was full time, though) while taking care of the baby 12 hours a day and doing the household chores. My job situation changed in October, and I've started letting go of that comfort money that was motivating me to work so much. I've now moved to part time on my previously full-time job, left the other job (when they closed down) and farming has slowed down considerably with the cooler weather. And bam! Here I am actually typing away at my computer.

I've thought almost daily about what I'd like to write here for the last few months, but by the time I'm alone with my thoughts, I usually think of some other project I'd like to work on. That's not to say that this expressive personal writing isn't a priority, because I think about it so much that I remind myself that I need to sit down and get this stuff out of my head more than I do.

But anyway, you probably want to hear about the farm, right? With the garden safely tucked away in a mess of dead plants after the recent freezes, it's time for me to take a look back at how this first year has treated us, and what we're going to do next year.

2012
In September, it had been one year since we first moved to this farm. In that time, we've learned about raising goats, geese, more about chickens, more about rabbits, and even a bit about donkeys. We've made and sold soap and eggs at our local small farmers market, and even sold some eggs to a local restaurant.

We found out that the native weeds in this area are quite stubborn and aggressive, and they can take over a good chunk of your garden if not dealt with on a daily basis. That was one of the hardest parts because I'd look out the window at our messy garden but knew I had 4 or 5 writing projects due by the end of the week, so tending to the garden wasn't possible. There were several days each week during the summer when I hadn't even stepped one foot outside.

We have a freezer stocked full of chicken, rabbit, and pork from a successful year of raising our own pastured, organic meat. We have dozens of jars of canned vegetables from our garden (before the pigs broke loose and ate the rest!). And most importantly, we've already made some great friends and connections in the local Chattanooga food scene.

2013
We have several goals for 2013, but the biggest of them includes a CSA. We have a few interested customers so far, but I'm encouraged by the new ideas I have for the spring garden. I won't go into too much detail yet, but our 2013 garden will be 4 times larger and incorporate much more natural fertilizer that we just didn't have starting out.

I'm not under the illusion that we'll be able to support the family with our farmers market or CSA income just yet, but I'm much happier working part time because it gives me the time to spend with my family and on getting this farm working more effectively. I may never be able to leave my part time job, but I'm OK with that. I'm a FIRM believer in living on less, and we hardly have many bills in the first place. When you break that dependency on working 60-80 hours a week to afford a certain lifestyle, you can enjoy a much happier life. Jetskis and boats and 70-inch flat screen TVs aren't what make a life full. We don't have a dishwasher and we hang our laundry out to dry, we don't have central heat or AC and we don't have cable or satellite TV. How do we cope? By putting on an extra shirt in the winter or reading a book. You'd be surprised at what you can do without when you put your mind to it.

But this leads into another goal of mine: doing even more to reduce our dependency on the non-essentials. I'm not against entertainment or relaxation occasionally, but no one's life should revolve around either.

Oh! And we have another baby due at the end of February. You might think we're crazy for having more kids at this point, but I never look at children as consumers of my time. They're the reason I do what I do, so having more doesn't complicate things; it adds to the motivation.

And with this update, I leave you with a promise to write more, and this 6-part video series I found on YouTube. You may have seen it before when it was on the BBC, but it's essentially the first ever reality show about families living in a recreated Iron Age experiment. Enjoy!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Kickstarting the CSA

Next spring, our goal is to establish a Community Supported Agriculture project that will allow us to sell our farm-fresh goodies straight to the people of the Chattanooga area in other ways than just at a Farmer's Market.

To help get this going, we've set up a Kickstarter project that will help us with some of the tools we'll need in the beginning. For now, this includes a greenhouse, a better irrigation system, and a few odds and ends.

The thing about Kickstarter is it's not just about donating to a cause. They have the site set up to let you give rewards for different tiers of contributions. So, for example, if you give $100, you'll get a 100% Organic Cotton T-Shirt, AND everything in the lower tiers, which includes a thank you on our website and FB page, a personal thank-you note sent to your home, a White Ivy Farm bumper sticker, and a postcard with a picture of one of our animals. So it's not like you're just throwing money at someone, you're actually getting some goodies in the process.

I was made aware of Kickstarter when Brian Fargo's Wasteland 2 video game project started earlier this year. Since then, he not only met his goal, but he also set up another program that allows Kickstarters to give back 5% of their earnings to other Kickstarter programs. When I set my project up, I made sure we were a part of this Kicking It Forward program as well.

The most ironic part of all of this is that a CSA itself uses a system very similar to Kickstarter anyway. Customers give their lump sum at the beginning of the season to get baskets of fresh produce throughout the year. That initial lump sum helps fund the farm for their up-front costs such as seeds and animal feed.

So that's why we're doing this. We see it as an opportunity to share the farm with others who want to help get it started, while raising money to help with some initial costs.

Even if you're not able to throw some money at the project, tell some friends or family members who might be interested. Thanks everyone!


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Introducing: White Ivy Farm

It's been a crazy few months, but I have some exciting news to announce! After years of dreaming, a year of working my butt off and a month of paperwork, we are now officially known as White Ivy Farm. And I guess that means I can now call myself a farmer!

I haven't said too much about this side of things because I have this weird superstition about jinxing stuff if I talk about my plans before they happen, but this is set up and legal now, so there's no turning back.

What do we plan to do with this new fancy business? Well, the goal is to sell at Farmer's Markets the rest of this season and start a CSA in May of 2013. This CSA will be for 22 weeks and the price is yet to be determined, but it will be in line with other local CSAs ($500-$600 per share per 22-week season).

My daughter with our first watermelon of the season
As for our garden, that's been crazy as well. Sarah's been creating some wonderful meals from our tomatoes, onions, peppers, potatoes, carrots, blackberries, and beans, and we look forward to everything else that's still growing. I also bought another 30 baby chicks, and they're growing like crazy. They're variations of the Americauna or "Easter Egger" chickens so they'll lay green, blue, and pink eggs, which should be fun to sell at the Farmer's Market.

Cashew is growing quickly and now allowed to run around with the other goats in the big pasture. She mainly follows Smokey around all day, but at least she's well-protected.

If you'd like to read up on our new farm, you can check out the website at www.whiteivyfarm.com. Be sure to also check out the Facebook page where we try to post more pictures than I do here. I'm sure I'll keep this blog as it's been my record of the transition, but I'm not sure if I'll move everything over to the website or just simply link to this one as my blog. Suggestions are welcome!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

You have stray dogs, we have stray donkeys

Last night a stray donkey wandered into our yard. I say wandered, but what I really mean is that our neighbors chased him into our yard because they thought he was one of ours.

He's a pretty donkey, looks well taken care of and seems to have a gentle disposition, but we certainly don't need another in-tact male donkey running around here because both of ours are in-tact males.

You'd think a donkey like this would come into our yard if we had female donkeys, but we have males, so I dunno. They've been loudly braying at each other all night, driving the dog and the geese nuts, so I hope we can find a way to get him out of here soon.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Five myths about country living

Oh look, this city boy's gonna tell us about country living already! Well go ahead, city boy!

Ahem. Well, even though I've lived in the city most of my life, my time in the country does offer a bit in the way of eye-opening misconceptions. I believe most city-folk (myself included) see the country as a peaceful place with untouched natural amenities and kind-hearted neighbors, but my experience varies from that a bit.

Don't get me wrong; I love this area and wouldn't trade it for the world, but I like to poke fun at some of the generalizations that I've always believed. So take this list with a grain of salt as my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek.

1. The country is quiet and peaceful.
Well, yeah, it is compared to the interstate highway I grew up next to, but it's not all songbirds and buzzing bees. Our neighbor has around 6 or 7 dogs, at last count, and they have this strange tendency to bark at every car that passes. At 3am. Gunshots are also a common sound, and I hear automatic gunfire at least once or twice a month.

2. The country is clean and pristine.
With hardly any trash dumping laws and very little enforcement, the sides of country roads are often littered with trash. I go out and pick up fast food containers at least once a week in our yard near the street, and there are several areas within a mile of us where you can't even see the ground because the trash is piled so high. This would probably happen even quicker in cities, but there are no clean-up crews out here.

3. The country is a safer place to live.
There was an unflattering episode of Intervention made about this area called Meth Mountain. Crystal Meth is not only a city problem, but it has become a HUGE rural problem as well. It's easier to hide meth labs in old barns and in our area, the county seat is about an hour away, so you can bet there aren't exactly a lot of patrolling squad cars up and down these roads. Plus, with drugs come lifelines to support those drug habits, such as theft and violence. We haven't experienced any of this first-hand yet, but we lock our doors at night.

4. The country air is fresh.
I grew up near the steel mills of northwest Indiana, so growing up, I thought people were joking when they said the sky was blue. But out here in the country, when you're taking a big long whiff of the clean country air, be prepared for a lung-full of burning plastic. With no burn regulations and a higher trash collection fee than the city, most of my neighbors have taken to burning their trash... plastic and all.

5. Country folks are kind and generous.
Again, it takes all kinds to make the world go 'round, but right now my wife and I are dealing with some neighbors who let their dogs run into our yard after our chickens and drive their cars through our yard because, as they put it, we're "from another place." I'm not trying to perpetuate any stereotypes of ignorant backwoods people or anything (because I hate the irony of that stereotype as well), but it just holds true in some cases.

So there you have it. I don't aim to talk anyone out of country living, but I'm having a little fun with what we've experienced so far. Accepting your home and its surrounding areas comes with both good and bad, and to me, it's all about realizing that the good far outweighs the bad.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Introducing: Cashew, the newest baby goat

I always feel like I'm jinxing something by naming a farm animal, but yesterday morning we were blessed with a newborn baby goat. Raisinet gave birth to little Cashew during the early morning of the 14th (just hours after Mother's Day!) and both mother and baby are doing fine.

5-hour-old Cashew
It's unusual for goats (especially Pygmies and Nigerian Dwarves) to give birth to only one kid, but we're glad to have her. Unfortunately, it seems that the geese scared Raisinet away from her first-time motherly duties as they cleaned Cashew off, so the mother seemed more scared of the baby than anything. We've taken to bottle-feeding the baby in the mean time, which is not exactly a bad thing because it means that the baby will get used to human contact and not be skittish around us, and it means we can milk Raisinet (if she'd let us go by her). Of course, we would have liked to let her feed from momma for the first week, but we're left with no choice now.

We've also had a new addition (or 8!) of baby bunnies at the beginning of the month. My tried-and-true female breeding rabbit had 9 (!!!) babies, but unfortunately, one of them didn't make it because a mother rabbit only has 8 teats. In that situation, it's usually better to see if they can pull through rather than trying to bottle feed it (because you already have 8, and how will you tell which one isn't getting milk from her mother?), but we're happy that this mother rabbit has consistently given us huge litters every time.

I've finally developed a system for breeding the rabbits. I alternate between two mothers each month, breeding them on the first of the month, then preparing the nest box on the 27th or so. It seems to work out well and it assures that we have a new litter every month. Now to buy more cages...

The pigs seem to finally understand that barbed wire hurts and they haven't tried to escape since last week. They're also tearing up their small paddock are quite well, although I doubt that the two of them will be able to do the whole 1/16th of an acre by the fall. They're concentrating on one corner for now.

And finally, if you haven't seen this movie yet, I HIGHLY recommend it. It's called "Fresh" and it's probably the best movie I've seen to date that describes the reasoning behind why I do this. One of the main people in the documentary talks about marrying helpful modern technology and old-fashioned natural methods of farming, and that's exactly what I believe in. Definitely check this movie out if you're interested in this blog.

But before I go, I leave you with a short video featuring the geese. They fascinate me.
video

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chasing pigs is good exercise

So I decided to move the pigs from their 10x10 dog kennel to the pasture, finally. While the moving process itself wasn't too bad, the next few hours were quite an adventure.

I had always planned to keep them in the dog kennel only temporarily so they could tear up the ground for my asparagus planting. I set up a large area for them to graze afterwards, secured by electric fencing and featuring a hog house made of pallets.

Loose, fertilized soil ready for planting
Well, the thing is, I could never really get that electric fence to work. I tried everything, too. I strung up wires according to directions, laid in a ground pole, hooked the energizer to the wires and.... nothing. So then I added two more 6' ground poles. Nothing. I hooked the positive wires to two of the fence lines instead of one. Well, now I'm getting a tiny bit of juice, but not nearly enough to provide a shock, and I felt nothing a mere 20 feet away. I even tried the different methods they suggested for a shock that occurs when two lines are touched (for larger animals) verses setting it up for just one line. Nothing.

I read through the directions about 10 more times, following everything to the letter, and still nothing. I did see a nice warning (that should have been on the outside of the freaking box) saying that dry or sandy soil will not work with an electric fence. I imagine that's the problem (I live on Sand Mountain, afterall), so it looks like I'll be taking back the energizer box and whatever else I can. I may end up selling it on Craigslist if the store won't take it back.

The pigs are already getting to work in the new pen
I knew the electric fence wasn't going to work so I went out and bought a spool of barbed wire for about 1/5th the price of that electric fence. I've heard of people securing pigs with barbed wire, although it was a stretch. (get it? Oooh farm humor)

I set up two lines all the way along the fence line: one at ground level and one about 6 inches higher. Sarah and I transported the pigs in a dog carrier (carried in a wheelbarrow) and got the pigs across the wire fence quite easily. Piece of cake, right?

Well, yes, until the pig just darted right over the 6" line of barbed wire and directly into our garden.

So I figured we'd scare it back and run another line of barbed wire a bit higher. Not a huge issue, unless you consider the fact that I'm supposed to be working (and work backs up quite easily if I take any time away from the computer) and Sarah needs to leave to take the baby to the doctor in 30 minutes. We chased those pigs all over that yard getting them back into their pen four or five times before realizing that we just couldn't keep doing that.

Finished fence (for now)
Trooper that my wonderful wife is, she strung up another line of wire on one side while I watched the baby and caught up on work demands, then she left for the appointment. When I had a bit of a break in my work day, I went out and finished it up. Now the pigs have been on their side of the fence for over a day without escaping, so I sure hope this works for good. I'll probably run another line or two a few inches higher before they get bigger, but for now, it's working. Fingers crossed!

This experience has taught me a few things. One, electric fencing is expensive crap. Two, barbed wire is the duct tape of fencing; It's cheap and does the job if you throw enough of it at a problem.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Living hog wild

I think I can say that we now have all of the different types of animals we wanted to get on this farm. Wait, no, we still want to get turkeys at some point. But for now, we're pretty content with what we have and I'm recognizing the fact that I should probably slow down on the animals. Maybe! One day.

Last month we bought two new pigs that we hope to just raise and slaughter in the fall. I'd eventually like to get a mating pair, but that involves mandatory castration for the males (so the meat doesn't get tainted) and we didn't want to mess with all of that until we figure out if this is something we want to do for sure.

The two female feeder pigs (2-3-month old pigs raised just for slaughter) we bought are Yorkshires, which is probably the most popular type of pig you'll see for meat (and movies! *ahem*). I put them in our old dog kennel (which has served as a chicken coop in the past) and they're tearing up the ground nicely so I can plant some asparagus there. The chickens ate the grass and provided some manure and the pigs are plowing and providing more manure. It should be a great spot for those asparagus plants considering they will spend the next 20-30 years in that one spot.

I finally have a nice schedule going for our meat rabbits, as well. Since it only takes them about 28-30 days to produce a litter, I'm alternating does to breed every month, providing us with about 5-7 new rabbits each month. These, combined with the meat chickens I bought in February means we probably won't need to buy any supermarket meat for a long time, if ever again. That's a goal I'm really happy to have achieved already.

As a side note, Blogger/Blogspot has greatly improved their blogging platform, so I'm able to add pictures and captions much more easily. That means more pics in my blog posts! I've included a bunch at the bottom of this one catching you up on some of the new additions to the farm.
The new chicken coop inside the barn

Inside the chicken coop

Nest boxes built so we can grab eggs without going into the coop

The goats love the old chicken coop
Roy relaxing on the milking stand

Smokey is getting bigger! And muddier!

Raisinet is pregnant! Cinnamon is still too young.

The geese are getting huge. And they poop a lot. No, seriously, it's everywhere

Finally! No more carrying water to the barn!

Since we got this house (about 6 months ago) we've been carrying four gallons of water at a time to the barn from the pump house so the animals can have water. Now, it's not really a long walk (probably 200 feet) but doing that three or four times a day really gets to be a pain. I know I can use the exercise, but I'm all about saving time these days.

So I've been looking at water tanks on Craigslist for a few months now, and they all seemed pretty shady. "We're not sure what was in this tank, but I wouldn't use it for water." We thought about buying new, but that's just way out of our price range. I tried putting together some old plastic trash cans in a way that I thought would work, but the bottom of the cans ended up being too flimsy to hold 50 gallons of water and a pipe coming out of a hole in the plastic. The weight of the water would always eventually warp the bottom (even after I built a reinforcement) and it was more of a headache than anything.

I found some 250-gallon water tanks at my local feed store. They call these "water totes" if you look them up online, but they're basically used to ship liquids, so they have a protective cage around the outside and a plastic pallet on the bottom for transporting with a forklift. The feed store guys told me that these were used to ship dish soap and they rinsed them out 3 times before they sell them. I checked inside for any residue, ran some water through it and there was not even a sud. So I bought one (for only $60!!) and brought it home. Of course, I still rinsed it out thoroughly and tested it in the water bottle of a rabbit before giving it to the rest of the animals.

250-gallon water tank
I bought a 4-way hose splitter and a few adapters from Lowe's, but not much else. I have one hose going out to a faucet I built in the chicken coop area of the barn and another hose running to an automatic waterer in the main stall for the goats, dog, and geese to use. The room with the tank is about two feet higher than the other rooms, so it works well to help gravity-feed the hoses that run out of the room.

Everything seems to be working fine so far with only one very minor leak in the main tank valve where it connects to my hose adapter, but I'll fix that as soon as I use up the water in there now. I only filled it up halfway to see how everything is working before filling it up to the full 250-gallon capacity. By the way, 250 gallons weighs 2,085 lbs not including the tank itself, so if you do this, make sure you have a solid foundation underneath!

4-way hose adapter
Hose going to faucet assembly in other room
Faucet in chicken room
Auto waterer connected to tank in other room
So in total, I spent probably $160 on the tank, adapters, piping for the faucet and the automatic waterer. If you count the two 100' hoses I bought to connect to the pump house, you could say I spent $225. Not too bad considering a new tank of that size alone goes for about $400-500.

I'm so happy to have this project finished so I can move on to the long list of others I have waiting for me. I figure with the way we go through water for the animals in the summer, I should only have to refill that tank about once a month. Let's hope this works!


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Companion planting

My neighbor plowed my 1/8th acre plot for a few bucks (ok, more than a few), and I'm now happy to say that I'm ready to plant! Well, almost.

I've been doing a lot of research on companion planting. Essentially, companion planting lets you use the natural benefits of other plants to either rid pests or add needed nutrients to companion plants. So, for instance, planting clover with cabbage will help eliminate the cabbage worms that can destroy your cabbage crop. Marigolds are also a prime example of one of the best pest-deterrent plants for your garden.

So I have the groups of companion plants figured out, I have the spacing and organization of the garden all planned out... now it's just time to go out there and do it. I hope to get to that this weekend, complete with more pics!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Geeseses and other such additions to the farm

I think we're beginning to hit a fairly steady rhythm on the farm. The weather is perfect (before it gets unbearably hot in about 2 months), we seem to have the predator problem under control (knock on wood), and our animals are having a good ole time on pasture.

See, now why did I have to go and jinx it!?

Earlier in March, we ordered 10 baby goslings (a mix of breeds) from McMurray Hatchery, and we've only lost 2 so far. One was literally pecked to death by the other goslings, and another was a victim of a predator attack (although I kinda suspect the dog... ). Right now I have them running free in the barn and a small fenced pasture area where the dog can't get to them, and they are like little squeeking poop-spewing lawnmowers. They do a wonderful job of eating up the weeds, but holy moly do they leave behind a mess.

We also started thinning out the flock of chickens we bought in January, and most of the meat birds are now in our freezer. Oh! And we bought 2 new Pygmy nannies. So right now we have:

  • - 6 Pygmy goats
  • - 19 chickens
  • - 8 geese
  • - 12 rabbits
  • - 2 donkeys
  • - 2 dogs
  • - 2 cats

But nope, no partridge in a pear tree. The only plans we have animal-wise are to process the remaining 7 meat chickens, sell the youngest billy goat, and buy 2 feeder pigs.

And then there's the garden! I've been trying to get someone to come plow our little field, but it's been difficult. I've offered the neighbor some hefty moolah to do it, so we'll see if he does. He actually wants me to buy his tractor, so he thinks if he delays it, I'll somehow mysteriously get thousands of dollars to buy it.

But anyway, I'm excited to finally start planting the veges I have growing under a Gro-Lite in my pump house.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring is here!

Lookie there, it's our first egg! Finally! That batch of chicks I bought back in October... the ones that were picked off one by one by weasels and raccoons... they're finally being productive. Of that batch, we have 4 hens and one rooster left that we're keeping, so it's really great to not only hear that rooster crow each morning, but actually see an egg finally. Of course, we have that second batch of chicks from the end of January that are on their way to becoming chickens themselves, but they still have a long way to go. And most of those will be freezer jockeys soon anyway

The weather has been amazing this week, and I'm always in much higher spirits when I can leave the windows open all day and all night. Of course, with these old drafty doors and windows, that means we're dealing with some wasps in the house as they scramble to find the best nesting areas for the spring, but we're staying on top of that.

I've also started a little make-shift greenhouse in the pump house for the vegetable seeds I got from Gurney's last month. I've been saving yogurt containers all winter and am planting a few seeds in each to get them started for planting the ground in a week or two. Planting season doesn't officially start until mid April here, but I'm trying to get myself ready. Of course I still have to till the ground in the new garden area, but I'm hoping to do that this Sunday. Along with finishing the chicken coop and installing a new back door.

Yep! I'm almost done with a new chicken coop I'm building within one of the larger rooms of the barn, and it will be using the old back door we have on the house now. Instead of buying a new one for the coop, I figured I'd buy a new one for the house, instead. It sure can use it.

Sarah and I are also discussing our summer plans more practically, considering I work 80-ish hours a week and watch the baby 11 hours a day while she's gone. It makes farm projects only possible for about a 7-hour window on Sundays, and we know that trying to set up a milking schedule for the goats would just not be possible. So we're going to let these baby goats drink all the milk they can from their momma and eventually sell them and buy some unrelated does once we have a plan in place for our busy work situation. There's a plan A, B, and C, but it depends on a few factors that should be playing out in the next few months. We'd like to eventually make farming our job, reduce our bills and live more off the land, but in the mean time, we're willing to do all we can to save up some money and get ourselves established and learning how to do this effectively.

So that's it for now!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

February's over? Really?

So it's been a crazy month since I last posted. I'm holding a newly 3-month-old baby in my arms as I type this, so I'll make it short and sweet.

We got a new puppy! He's a Great Pyrenees named Smokey. He should be a great addition to the farm, guarding the livestock from predators... once he grows into his paws a bit.

We got new bunnies! After 3 unsuccessful attempts with one female rabbit, I finally bought another female from a local flea market and bred her right away. She gave birth to 7 babies, and we processed the unproductive female, who now lives snuggly in our freezer.

The baby chicks are growing up quickly, and we haven't lost one yet (which is a record for me and chickens after a month). Most of them are Cornish Rocks or Cornish X, and let me tell you... those birds are jerks. I've heard it so many times before (and I've raised Cornish before, but forgot), but once these meat birds get to proper weight, you just can't wait to get them out of your flock and into your freezer. They're messy, lazy, aggressive, and greedy.

And probably the best news of the month: we have new baby goats! Vanilla (our white Pygmy) gave birth to 2 kids on February 23rd. Both kids are doing great, and if that wasn't enough... Coco is literally in labor as I write this! She's been struggling since last night, so I hope all is well, but she should be giving birth any time today.

As for the rest of the month, I also built a milking stand, sided the pig house with metal roofing, and began the new chicken coop I'm building inside the barn.

I'll *try* not to wait another month before posting again, but, well, you know how it goes.

Monday, January 30, 2012

And then there were more chickens

Yep! We got more chickens. I got the call from the local post office this morning, rushed over and picked them up, and they're currently basking in the red glow of the heat lamp while eating more than their fair share of starter crumbles.

This time, I got the Meat and Egg combo from McMurray, so there are 15 Cornish Rocks (meat birds that grow quickly) and 10 brown egg-layers in there. Hopefully I can do a bit better with these than the last batch (of which only 7 survived after a few bad predator attacks).

You know what this means, right? It means I have a few months until I'll need to build a bigger chicken coop. It's a good thing I love projects, though.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

New goat day!

So today we got some goats. I've been waiting to say that for a long time! One of my favorite animals at the farm I worked at was goats, and we've been researching them ever since.

Through our research and discussions, Sarah and I decided that the best thing for us is Pygmy goats. Since goats are herd animals, it only makes sense to get smaller ones that make less milk, so we can still have several goats. If we had larger, more traditional milk goats, we'd still need to get 2 or 3, but we'd have more milk than we'd ever know what to do with. Plus, if we ever need more with Pygmies, we just get more Pygmies!

So a few days ago we found a local farmer who was selling most of her flock because she wanted to get meat goats instead. She was selling 2 females and 1 male, and the kicker is that both females are pregnant! So that pretty much takes care of a few things at once. The price wasn't a steal, but they look healthy and well taken care of, so that's worth more to me.

We haven't named them all yet, but Sarah picked Roy for the billy (it's a name she's wanted for a goat for a long time) and I'm letting each daughter pick out a name for each of the nannies. I get to name the first baby, though. Depending on how well everything goes, we may keep the first few babies, if they're female.

So far they seem happy in the pasture, but it may take a while for them to get comfortable around us after what I imagine was a fairly stressful truck ride to our house over those bumpy country roads.

So without further delay, I present to you, Roy and the girls:

(I'll get better pics soon!)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fun with electric fencing

My first electric fence project didn't turn out too bad (so far), but I have some concerns.

In the manual for the charger (that I couldn't read until I opened the darn thing), it gives some very detailed instructions on wire placement for different animals, soil types, and general tips for making your electric fence work most efficiently. But if the "best results" checklist was a test, I'd have failed.

First off, they say electric fences perform poorly in sandy soil. Sandy soil, check. Electric fences work poorly in dry soil. Right now our soil is way oversaturated, but from June to August it rains probably 3-4 times total, so it will be dry then. Check.

Stringing the line wasn't too bad, and I made gate handles on each end. I opted not to string wires along the existing fence (yet), so the electrified sections are just 2 of the 4 fence lines; the other two sides have 6' field fence and barbed wire every foot, so they should be fine.

I'm hoping we can actually get pigs this weekend since I'm all set up now. We head down to the Collinsville Trade Day flea market once every few months, and they should start getting more animals in since the weather's warming up.

Some tips I learned about electric fencing:

  • Don't buy anything until you have a detailed plan worked out for what you're going to electrify. For instance, if you're going to electrify existing field fence, you need the extended plastic insulators so they don't touch the existing metal.
  • Watch the type of insulators you buy. I bought closed loop ones for my corner posts without realizing that the only way to get wire into a closed loop is to cut it off of the spool first. Go with the type of insulator that lets you work it in without needing an end to feed through a closed loop.
  • Don't buy an electrifier box for the exact space you have. If you have 2 miles of wire to electrify, buy a 5-mile box to get better power and assure that the electricity will reach all the way to the furthest point.
  • If you buy an AC-powered box, make sure you have an outdoor AC outlet nearby. The solar ones are nice, but they're way way more expensive. Weigh the pros and cons of solar vs. AC (or DC, but charging and maintaining a battery is no fun for anyone).
  • Make sure your t-posts are all facing the right way! I had a problem with existing fencing having t-posts that faced outward, while the rest of my inner fence had inside-facing t-posts. Inner-facing is to keep animals in, and outer-facing is to keep animals out, but just make sure it's consistent either way.

I'm sure there's more I'm forgetting, but that'll have to do for now.

Before I go, I leave you with this picture. Seems ole Shelby found a friend:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winter projects: Compost bin and hog house

As the weather continues to flirt with freezing temperatures at night, I'm chugging right along with my winter project list.

This month, I can check off two more: the 3-section compost bin and the hog house.

Compost Bin
This one was originally going to be made of free pallets, but I decided to make it right because it has to be around for a long, long time. As I often do, I find plans for projects that others have done and modify it to my liking. On this particular one, I kept the 3-section idea that almost everyone does, so I can rotate compost every three years. When the first section is filled up, I move on to the next one, and so on. When the third one is filled, I take the compost from the first one and apply it to the garden.

The whole thing measures 12' x 4' x 4' and is made entirely of 2x4s and 1" chicken wire. I built doors on the front of each section that open from the bottom, so I can fully open them to shovel out the compost when it's ready. There's no top currently, but I wanted to see if or why that would ever be needed. The air flow and rain actually helps the composting process, so I didn't want to cover the material too much. It might look messy, but that's the beauty of not really having neighbors!

So far I'm throwing in kitchen scraps, rough cardboard (nothing shiny at all), soiled chicken bedding mixed with hay, rabbit droppings, and donkey manure. I aim to fill a bin each year, but at the rate I'm already going, that first one will be filled in a few months!

Hog House
Once again, I looked at a few hog house plans online and in books, mixed in a fencing plan I saw online, threw in a few of my own ideas, and viola! One cheap and sturdy hog house.

The hardest part of this one was finding pallets to use, as I live pretty far from any warehouses or anything that would use pallets. Most places I went (like the local feed store) told me that they trade their pallets back in at the end of each month. If you get pallets, make sure to ask the store first, as many give them away, but for many stores, you'd actually be stealing from them. Also check the 'free stuff' section of Craigslist. I find pallet giveaways all the time on there.

The most expensive part of this project was the t-posts. I bought 2 for each pallet, for a total of 12. Since pallets are about 4 feet tall standing up, I bought 5.5' t-posts to allow about 6 inches to stick up (while 1' would be in the ground). This 6-inch bit actually fits into the pallets used for the roof, securing it even further. After I built this hog house, we had a windstorm at 35mph with 45mph gusts, and the house didn't even budge.

To assemble the house, start on one corner and install a t-post with a fence post pounder. Measure and install the next t-post so you can slip the pallet over the top of both posts. Repeat this all the way around until you have the shape and size you want. On mine, I decided to make it three pallets long and one pallet deep. I also put a pallet in the front center, to allow a bit more of a wind break and shade, while keeping the inside open. This also helps secure the roof, as well.

For the roof I used three pallets connected with two scrap pieces of 2x4x10 going straight across the bottom. When they replaced my roof in November, I had them save the old metal for me, so I used that for the top. I was going to go with cheap spare screws, but decided to buy good roofing screws for this because I don't want it blowing away (and also I have a barn to re-roof soon!)

Eventually, if I get more than one or two hogs, I may go to two pallets deep, but that's the beauty of this house: it's expandable, mobile and cheap! Each year, when I rotate the gardens and hog pasture, I can pull up this pallet house and move it to wherever I want in only an hour or so. I may also cover the walls with the old metal roofing, keeping them separate on each pallet for mobility, but we'll see how it works as it is, first. The only part you'll need two people for is lifting the roof. It's heavy!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Is it scary for me to get this excited over a meat cleaver?

This past week, my family and I made the 10-hour trek up to Indiana to visit our families. There was snow, it was cold, and there were no mountains, but I always enjoy visiting relatives.

When they were down here last time, we went to a flea market and saw some old meat cleavers for $50-$60. I showed interest, but there's no way I have that much money for a meat cleaver. I love the fact that they're old and built well (those new stainless steel knives and hatchets can't be sharpened), so my dad told me next time I'm up in Indiana, he'll give me one of his old ones (he's a meat-cutter).

Lo and behold, this old meat cleaver he gave me is way cooler than I expected. This picture doesn't do it justice, but it's about a foot long, 8-10 lbs, and probably 40 years old. It was made by Chicago Cutlery and he says it was one of his first ones he used since he started meat-cutting out of high school, so to me it's like a family heirloom. Some people get jewelry, I get a meat cleaver. But that's a good thing! I'd much rather have this than a ring or something.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Belated welcome to a new year!

Blogging for me is a funny thing. I write for my day job, and it's always a topic that's important for the readers as a general rule. So when I think about writing more for this blog, I always think I need to hold off until I get a picture of so-and-so project or until this-or-that project is finished, but the fact of the matter is, I imagine many people might actually like to read about the journey instead of the destination. Also, I imagine I'm not alone here, but I tend to start quite a few projects before finishing another. It's part of my charm... ask my wife!

So I'm going to whip up a bit of an update on what's been going on in and around the farm for the last month.

The rabbits are growing so quickly, and I recently mated one of the females for babies next month. I built a little nest box out of scrap plywood, which I had to remake at one point because it was about 1/16th of an inch too large to fit through the rabbit hutch door! But overall, I think it should work well. I also bought some smaller-gap wire mesh to attach to the walls of their cages so the babies don't fall out. Quick tip: if you plan to breed rabbits, those cages you get from Tractor Supply or Walmart with the 2-inch gaps will not work without modification. I learned that the hard way. The babies are actually small enough to slip through those 2-inch gaps after they climb out of the nest box.

I finished the fencing for the hog pen, although I still need to string up the electrical wires and hook that all up. I figure if I wait long enough, every question I have about this whole thing will eventually be answered as I research more and more about electric fences. So far, that theory is working, but I think I'm ready. If only it would stop raining now!

I'm building a hog house based on an idea I read somewhere for fencing made of pallets. See, wooden pallets are free (as long as you don't get caught... I kid! I kid!) and can be found behind most warehouses, grocery stores, department stores, etc. Since they're designed with a gap between the two slats of wood, you can put two t-posts on each end to hold them up vertically. I'm going to use that concept to build a 3-pallet-long, 1-pallet-deep (so roughly 12 feet long by 4 feet deep and 4 feet high) hog house that can easily be taken down and moved each year when I rotate the crop fields. All you need to do is lift the pallets off the two t-posts on each piece, pull up the t-posts from the ground and set it up again in the other field. The top will be the only assembled part that won't come apart being three pallets across with old metal roofing screwed into the top and large handles on each side for two people to lift up and move. I'll put latches on the roof to attach it to the vertical pallets because it gets insanely windy on this mountain. Once I get that completed I'll take pictures and post them.

My seven chickens are still doing fine since I moved them into that 10x10 kennel with the scrap-wood chicken house. I'm going to close up one side of the barn where the chickens used to be and make that into a proper chicken house soon. McMurray Hatchery has day-old chicks available earlier than ever this year (on January 30th), so I ordered another 25 to grow my flock again before spring. This time I ordered a mix of Cornish Rocks (fast-growing meat chickens) and brown egg-layers. I also ordered some goslings, but they're not available until March.

It's amazing how quickly this winter is passing by. As I'm starting (and sometimes finishing) more projects, I always have in the back of my mind this idea that I have all winter to finish them before we start getting goats and pigs in the spring. Well, here in Alabama, Spring is about 6 weeks away, so I better get busy! We've actually maintained some nice 60-degree days each week of the winter so far, but it can still dip down into the 20s at night.

Which brings me to the upcoming garden. I ordered a whole bunch of seeds from Gurney's a few weeks ago and they're currently sitting in a box here in my office. I was hoping to build some type of greenshouse during the winter, but that's a project that may wait until next winter. I do still plan to start the seeds a few weeks before the last frost, but we have a sunny laundry room (although it faces east) that I'm going to use this year. I saved all of the old storm windows from my old house to use in a greenhouse project, even going through the hassle of bringing them with me on the move to this house. Next on the garden agenda is to figure out which plants I'll plant where, taking advantage of companion gardening and soil types. I'm actually looking forward to that because it's like I'm some sort of plant matchmaker. "Oh come on, Beans! You'll love Sunflower. He's a great guy and will offer you the support you need!"

And of course my precious little angel is growing up so fast! She'll be 8 weeks old this Friday, and she's already rolling over and sleeping more than 2 hours at a time (which will also help me get more projects done before Spring). She got to see her grandparents (on my side) for the first time this last weekend during a trip we made up to Indiana, and it was really a great time. I sure am glad to be far away from that snow again, though!

So, once it finally stops raining I will take some more pictures of my projects and post them here for you all to see. Until next time!