We’re here!

I don’t know why I thought I’d be back on the blog the night we moved in, but I did. And I wasn’t. In fact, we didn’t have internet for a whole 3 days! It was glorious! We haven’t had a house phone in a few years, but now that we’re staying put forever, I’d like to get one again. Of course, I’m being picky about the phone itself, and “hooking it up” isn’t as simple as it used to be. Voice Over Internet Protocol {VOIP, like Vonage} + circa 1970’s phone wiring = kinda tricky. So it’s not quite ready. TV has been a challenge too, much to the chagrin of Farmer Tripp – no line of sight for Dish OR DIrecTV satellites means no network television at Owl Moon Farm.

The chickens arrived on Saturday. The hawks were here Monday and I spotted 2 nasty-looking vultures Tuesday {can you believe they’re Federally protected?!?!}. As if I needed any convincing, I’m now 100% sure it’s time for us to get a farm dog! My little hound mix is a great hunter, but he’s really only interested in deer and rabbits. He’s never been much of a predator-control dog, and he’s 11, so we’re looking into getting a puppy to help protect us and the livestock from bears, coyote, fox, birds, strangers, etc. Fortunately, a good friend of Tripp’s lives just an hour and a half from here and raises Old-Time Scotch Collies, a heritage breed of dogs with excellent all-around farm dog skills – herding, predator-control, varmint-control, family protection and general assistance. They’re sweet and gentle with their family and though they won’t attack a stranger, they’ll certainly let you know someone’s around that shouldn’t be. Kurt and Leslie at Mountain Wave Farm in Blacksburg have been very helpful in making this important decision and we look forward to visiting their new litter this weekend. The pups are about 6 weeks old now, ready for their new homes around Sept 14th. I can’t wait!

Today I dropped the children off at a friend’s house {not just a friend, Betty happens to be the woman who used to own our farm!} while I made a “quick” trip to Charlottesville to pick up some more laying hens. If you haven’t been keeping score at home, we started with 16, lost 4, got 8, lost 9, hatched 3 {all dead now} so we were down to 4 hennies. The only survivor of our original flock, our sweet Buff Orpington mama who sat on three clutches in 2013 and managed to hatch the only egg she sat on this summer; plus 2 Rhode Island Reds and an unknown hen, all of which were among the donation birds last summer. Grandpa found a posting on the CraigsList for some Buff Orpington poults {bigger than chicks but not yet old enough to lay eggs} so I went on over and got 8 hens + 1 rooster. We actually really liked our Buff rooster, but he was one of our first predator casualties in 2012. When our Barred Rock rooster turned out to be a mean SOB and he and the Dominique rooster were killed this spring, I decided any replacements would have to be Buffs. In fact, I think we’re officially moving towards 100% Buff Orpingtons now, so we will have a purebred stock. Who knows, maybe we can even sell fertilized eggs, chicks or poults!

Here’s a picture of the pen I “made” for the poults. I purchased a run extension from the local Tractor Supply designed to attach to the Chick’n + Rabbit Hutch they sell. For $129 I thought it would be a secure enclosure for the teenage chickens. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have anything on the back, so I added some 2×4 fence wire and then put some plastic tarp over top for sun/rain protection. It’s only for a week or so, until all the birds get to know each other, and in the future, we can use it when a mama has a clutch of eggs, someone needs special care or medication, or even as a puppy run. For extra security, I plan to change out the 2×4 wire for some 1×1 hardware mesh {like what’s on the rest of the pen} after the girls move into the regular chicken house next week.

Owl Moon Farm Chick Brooder

Quarantine Pen which can be a brooder, an ICU, puppy run…whatever we need.

Our new tractor should be delivered tomorrow. Honestly, I’ve left this one up to Farmer Tripp so all I really know for sure is that it’s a Kubota with a bucket on the front. Oh, and he paid the $250 extra for the canopy, so maybe we won’t get sunburnt. We’ll see about that.

I’m hoping to have another conversation with my fencing guy this week as we try to finalize our plan for the small nursery paddock. I’d like to get some goats out there ASAP, along with the chickens. I figure the goats will keep the grass low and the hennies will be enclosed enough that they won’t need to roost on my front porch or in the barn or anything. {If you have any do’s or don’ts about that, please don’t hesitate to share!} The pole barn to which the nursery paddock is attached needs a lot of TLC, so I’m hoping to get in there in the next few weeks to finish cleaning it out and to make some safe and secure livestock stalls. {How’s that for alliteration, Mrs. B??} Here’s a video I took last week after an hour or so of cleaning one of the stalls. Lots of wood to chop before the cool weather sets in…

Quick update!

So much is going on…

We made an offer on a house in Charlottesville! Honestly, as a Hokie, I never, in a million years, thought I would be excited about living in Who-ville, but really – this place is going to be amazing. It’s a fixer-upper, and a foreclosure… Translation: Great deal, wonderful location, and all-around lucky find. Barring any catastrophes, we’re excited to close July/August! (I’ll share some pictures after our visit this weekend)

Our mama hen hatched a chick! With moving, worrying about moving chickens, and an 8-chicken massacre on Mother’s Day, were weren’t really planning on having any babies this summer. But our mama was determined – and lucky. I gave her a “what the heck” egg 2 days after the killing spree (which took out our two roosters), and thought there was no way she’d get that egg to hatch. So, last night Tripp said she was on the floor of the coop, instead of in her nesting box, and the egg was gone. I told him she’d probably “done away with it,” as she did last summer (twice). But when he went in today to close everyone in for the drive tomorrow, he heard a little cheeping and realized he’s scooped up a chick with Mama. That girl is tenacious! I can’t wait to meet the little one tomorrow after my hennies make their way down to good ole’ Virginny!

We’re staying with my dad right now, getting acclimated to our new “home,” and taking it easy. We left PA in a bit of a rush as my dear old kitty came down with a serious bladder/kidney infection that caused serious urination…”issues”… just as we put our sweet little home on the market. Fearing her lack of bladder control might turn into a complete basement remodel, we opted to pack up and hunker down here in VA. She got better quickly with antibiotics, and we sold the house the week after we got here! Now we’re just waiting to close on the PA house, and then the VA house.

We visited the Scottsville Farmer’s Market today! It has really grown since we went last summer – SO many new faces, and so much good, local food! Not all organic, but enough was, and for really good prices. I even got a hookup for some raw milk! It was a good day.

The kids are settling in but really missing their friends (as am I). We’re about 45 minutes from the new house, so it’s tricky figuring out where to “get involved.” I’m planning to sign them up for swim lessons at my first favorite place in Central VA, and we’re looking for a place to take horseback riding lessons. Since we all want a horse and pony ASAP, I figured they should learn how to take care of one – and ride! So excited.

Walnut Creek Park

Swimming Lessons in a lake @ Walnut Creek Park

Homemade Ramen Noodles

I thought it would be fun to share a simple homemade ramen recipe with you today, but as I started, I realized I needed to share another recipe with you at the same time.

Homemade Ramen Noodles

Ingredients
4 cups chicken stock*
1 tsp. Chinese Five Spice
1 tsp. salt
1 carrot, sliced thin
Chinese curly noodles
Chives
2-3 cloves garlic

Directions

  1. Add stock, spices, salt and carrot to a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. When the carrots seem almost cooked, add noodles and continue to boil for 3-4 minutes.
  3. When noodles are cooked through, add chives and garlic. Serve.

I have only ever found the curly noodles at Wegman’s, so let us know in the comments if you’ve come across them elsewhere. and the Chinese Five Spice is something I purchase in bulk from Frontier Co-op, though I’m sure you can buy it in smaller quantities in a well-stocked gourmet or whole food market. Or you could make your own!

*For about a year and a half (?) I’ve been making chicken stock with the carcass of a Farmer’s Market chicken. We roast the chicken first, or sometimes I just part it, and then use the bones, skin, neck, entrails – whatever is leftover – to make nutrient-rich, delicious chicken stock. There are lots of different ways to do it, and many recipes, but this is what works for us. And, like so many other “recipes,” I work with what I have and leave everything else out if I don’t have it. I think it’s still healthier than anything I could buy in the supermarket…

Homemade Chicken Stock

homemade chicken stock setup

Decanting 1 quart of stock

Ingredients
1 chicken carcass
water
2 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped

Directions

  1. Place the chicken carcass in a 6-quart crockpot and cover with water.
  2. Add chopped veggies and cook on low for 24 hours.
  3. Using a ladle, remove 1 quart stock and then add more water to the crockpot. {I use a fine mesh sieve to catch any of the chicken or veg bits and then add that sludge back to the pot. See photo.}
  4. Next day, same time, remove another quart of stock and add more water.
  5. I usually do it for a total of 3 quarts.

I’ve taken more each day and find that it gets very thin. Taking only 1 quart yields a dark, rich stock. We use the stock when cooking grains like rice or barley for dinner and as the base for soups. During the cold winter, it’s lovely to take a scoop, add some salt, and sip it like tea. Truly a homemade super food.

Ten Reasons to drink Bone Broth {chicken stock} from KitchenStewardship.com:

1. Immunity Boosting Fat
The yellow fat from pastured chickens holds immune boosting powers that are only the tip of the iceberg in the power of a properly prepared chicken stock to keep you from getting the next cold or other bug that flies through your house.

2. Warm Liquid is Soothing
It’s okay to mention the obvious. There are plenty of other immune-boosting strategies, like apple cider vinegar water, using lots of raw garlic, and taking fermented cod liver oil, but the soothing feel of a warm liquid on a cold day can’t be beat. (You’ll still want FCLO from Green Pasture for the Vitamins A and D and omega 3s, but you might not want to sip it as you sit at the computer!)

3. Super Mineral Boost
Bone broth contains minerals from the bones that are not only abundant but easy to assimilate into our bodies (unlike the whole mess with whole grains and phytic acid and such – see the soaking grains series for more info on that). Minerals that will help you stay in optimal health include:

  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • other trace minerals

SEVEN more reasons here!

Sheep

Among the other crazy things I hope to do on our little farm, sheep are up there in the Top 5. Of course we’ll have a garden, and our laying hens, and Ladies Homestead Gatherings, but what our homestead really needs is livestock. And I think our first one will be sheep.

Sheep are beautiful. Sheep scream “FARM!” And sheep make WOOL and since I’m a knitter, it only seems logical that I would have sheep, right? No, I don’t have a spinning wheel, nor have I ever sheared a sheep or carded a fleece, but I am 100% confident that I could and so, I am determined.

Where to start?

One of the cornerstones of our farming philosophy is to choose animals that are considered “heritage” breeds; those bred by farmers before the drastic mono-culturization of our current food and fiber system. So the first thing I did was check the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy for their list of endangered breeds. The ALBC’s Mission is to :

{Ensure} the future of agriculture through the genetic conservation and promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry.

Under sheep, they have the following breeds listed as Critical:
Florida Cracker
Gulf Coast or Gulf Coast Native 
Hog Island
Leicester Longwool
Romeldale/CVM
Santa Cruz

And the following listed as Threatened:
Black Welsh Mountain
Clun Forest
Cotswold
Dorset Horn
Jacob – American
Karakul – American
Navajo-Churro
St. Croix

Romeldale/CVM Sheep Mama and twins

Romeldale/CVM Mama & Twins

I read through the descriptions of the various breeds, focusing mainly on those on the Critical list. The folks at Colonial Williamsburg maintain a breeding flock of Leicester Longwool and the Hog Island is native to a small island off the coast of Virginia, so those two were considered finalists. But the winner, at this point in time, is the Romeldale/CVM. I am attracted to this breed because the animals come in a variety of colors, because the dams are said to be good mothers, and because “the breed’s fleece quality and performance characteristics…make them useful for many production systems and valuable to handspinners and other fiber artists.”

Ok, so I chose my starting breed. Now I have so many questions!

  • Will I have success selling the fleece?
  • Should I consider selling the lambs for meat?
  • How many animals should I start with?
  • What kind of fencing will I need?
  • Should I keep a ram?
  • What about Livestock Guardian Dogs {aka, LGDs}?

I have really enjoyed reading Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep which is a wonderful resource for new and experienced shepherds. But, even better; I was fortunate to come across Alison Waddel of Phoenix Farm Fiber in South Carolina through www.LocalHarvest.org. Alison has a profile on that website which directs people to her farm, plus she is able to sell roving and other fiber right there as well. To supplement what she sells through Local Harvest, Alison maintains an internet store on Etsy where she sells fiber from her Romeldale/CVM sheep and mohair goats as well as upcycled / recycled products, soaps, and other neat things. So naturally, I emailed her! I introduced myself and mentioned that I was interested in keeping Romeldale/CVM sheep and did she have any advice or suggestions. She responded quickly and thoroughly and for the past week has been answering innumerable questions from me. The ones listed above barely scratch the surface, but here are the answers I’ve come up with, with Alison’s professional guidance:

  • Yes
  • Yes
  • 4-6
  • 2×4 No Climb Fencing around the perimeter to contain dogs and baby lambs + our poultry netting surrounding the chickens within the sheep’s paddock.
  • Yes
  • Alison recommends Great Pyrenees. My plan is to have one {trained female???} LGD as soon as we get our sheep.

I am so grateful for making a long-distance shepherd friend already, and look forward to my opportunity to Pay it Forward very soon. Thanks, Alison!

** Internship Update – Unfortunately, the Howell Living History Farm has decided not to take any new interns this fall, so I will not be learning to drive a horse team in Lambertville, New Jersey. BUT, recently I came across a gentleman just 30 minutes or so from me who works his horses in the fall for wagon rides and parades and he has offered to teach he what he can. I spoke with Greg today and hope to spend some time with him and his pair of Belgians very, very soon. I’ll keep you posted!

Our Chicken Setup

We have had chickens for a little over a year now, so I thought it would be a good time to share our setup – how and why we do our chickens the way we do. I didn’t want to get too far into the details before we were happy with everything, and for our current situation, we seem to have found a great setup.

Our Chickens

Owl Moon Farms Chickens

Our Happy Hens

We purchased our mixed brood from MyPetChicken.com as day-old chicks. 4 Buff Orpingtons, 4 Dominiques, 4 Plymouth Barred Rocks, and 4 Rhode Island Reds. Initially, I was hoping to receive one male and three females of each. It turned out we received 4 female Rhode Island Reds and because the Barred Rocks and Dominiques look exactly the same until their combs start to grow, we had trouble telling them apart for the longest time. One of our black and white chicks passed away early on, though we’re not sure of what, so we ended up with twelve hens and three roosters. We anticipated choosing one rooster to keep, and since I really wanted the keeper to be a Buff for future use in a possible breeding program, I was discouraged when we discovered he had a badly deformed foot, and was not a good candidate for breeding. We were gearing up to cull one or two of the roosters, when a fox mama visited and killed the Buff rooster, 2 buff hens and 1 Rhody hen. It was a very sad day on our farm, and we are still trying to recover, having searched for weeks for replacement hens.

If I were going to do it again, I would purchase straight runs of just Buff Orpingtons. We wanted heritage breeds, and all of the birds have been wonderful, but if we plan to get serious about a breeding program, Buffs tend to be very good mothers and would make a better choice.

We were able to hatch 2 babies this spring, and one is still growing strong. She is about 4 weeks old now, and I’m still not sure how to introduce her to the main flock. Currently, she’s living in solitude and I am concerned about her ability to adapt to living with other birds.

Homemade chicken brooder

Homemade Chicken Brooder

The Brooder

I found a photo online and showed it to dear hubby. I said, “Please make me this!” and he did. It is heavy so we installed some trunk-style handles on the ends to make it easier to lift. We also installed a small hook & eye loop on the roof/front door so it can be safely opened without worrying about the door smashing our little ones’ fingers. After a few days it was clear the chicks needed somewhere to roost, so we put two roosting bars inside across the back two corners. We are using it again right now as we brood our home-hatched chick, and this time I put a 1’x1′ stool/bench/table inside which helps keep the food and water clear of pine shavings.

Homemade mobile chicken coop

Owl Moon Farms Chicken Coop

The coop

My very handy husband worked evenings for 3 straight weeks, getting our “eggmobile” up and running in time for our first brood in August of 2012. We started with a standard 4’x8′ utility trailer that we purchased from CraigsList. He framed it out, added siding, a roof, 2 5-opening nesting boxes, and 4 functional windows. We put rubber stall mats on the floor, three straight-from-the-woods nesting bars, an AC vent in each end and suspended a galvanized feeder from the roof supports. We put lots and lots of shavings in the coop – on the floor an in the nesting boxes. Even in the 95+ heat this summer, the coop does not have an overpowering odor – the birds seem to do most of their…eh hem…business out of doors. Last year I left most of the shavings inside the coop and used them to help generate heat during the cold weather this winter.

I plan to update with some pricing very soon.

PoultryNet from Premeir1Supplies.com

We elected to purchase one, 140-foot section of electrified poultry netting for our birds, to give them the freedom to roam while also offering them safety from most ground predators. We would prefer to allow them to range more freely but we are currently “leasing” our land in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. In the future, we hope to give them a much larger area.

Premier PRS 50 Solar Energizer 

Premier PRS 50

Premier PRS 50

Because we wanted our chicken coop to remain completely mobile, we chose a solar energizer which has worked extremely well for us over the past year. The charge seems noticeably weaker after a few days of cloudy weather, but generally it seems to hold a good strong charge.

Things to consider:

  • Be sure your nesting boxes open up, not down if you have a choice. While our henny was sitting on her eggs, she and the eggs were living in a small, borrowed chicken coop with a down-opening back door. Every time I opened the door, shavings and poop would fall into the crack, making it impossible to close without clearing it – and spilling shavings all over the ground.
  • We feed our grit and oyster shell in a raised dog bowl set from Target. It holds two average-sized dog bowls and when placed under the coop, allows the birds free-access. If it were to be kept in a place where it might collect rain, I would have drilled holes in the bottom for drainage.
  • Make sure there is a way to secure all of the doors open so that when you’re inside, or gathering eggs, the door will not accidentally close. We have a heavy-duty hook & eye loop on the eggmobile door which prevents it from blowing closed in the wind.

Did I miss anything? Feel free to ask any questions you might have!

The Great Chick Experiment 2013

As you may or may not know, I am an almost year-old chicken owner. As in, I have had chickens in my life for approximately 1 year. I purchased my original brood as day-old chicks from MyPetChicken.com. We have been very pleased with the birds, but since ordering our chicks, I learned that breeding facilities aren’t always the most humane of operations. I will not go into detail here, but let’s just say that when people {like me} request a certain gender of chickens {for us, 4 boys and 12 girls} there ends up being a surplus of chicks, which may or may not be dealt with in a less-than-pleasant way. Read more here if you want the {extremely gorey} details. Anyway, I decided quickly that I would prefer to stay away from commercial hatcheries in the future, and committed to breeding my own replacement hens going forward.

One of our hennies was getting a little nasty earlier this week, pecking my hands and making an odd growling sound when I attempted to remove her eggs, so she seemed willing and determined to sit on a few eggs for a while. Hoping that these are definite signs of “broodiness,” last night I moved our 3 Buff Orpington hens and our Buff Orpington rooster into the Love Shack for a few weeks in semi-solitary confinement.

Here’s my plan:

  1. Isolate the Buff Orpingtons, the breed we have that’s more inclined to WANT to rear a brood of chicks.
  2. Mark a few eggs and leave them in the nesting area for the “broody” henny to babysit. Here’s where it gets complicated. Since we have 2 other not-Buff roosters, I assume the fertilized eggs already inside my Buff hens are…mixed breed chicks. Since I want purebred chicks, I need to wait for the eggs inside to make their way out before keeping any for incubating. I need something for her to do in the meantime, and don’t want the nest to fill up, so there are 4 marked eggs in the nest. I’ll collect everything else for 3 weeks, assuming those are not purebred eggs.
  3. IF a hen is still feeling broody in 3 weeks, she’ll get to sit on whatever eggs are laid by the Buffs in isolation; I think we will shoot for 10 total. If no one wants to sit, I can at least assume that all the eggs inside are purebred, and whenever another one decides to sit, I will stop collecting again immediately.

While I have no experience with this kind of thing, I do have some really great friends around me who are eager to offer suggestions, and I think my plan has a reasonably good chance of success. Luckily, there really is no pressure to have chicks this year. My hens are only going to be one in June, and won’t need replacing until next spring at the earliest. And since I wasn’t sure exactly when to expect the broody behavior to set in, I am a little concerned I may have missed my chance. I think I will isolate the breeding chickens on April 1 next year, hoping to have the 2-3 week mix-breed eggs out before any hennies go broody. And in the meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a successful chicken mating season!
**I’ll update the post with a picture tomorrow!

Update, April 22nd
First, here’s a picture.Broody Hen

And now an update: I’ve decided to alter my plan a little bit. I began to worry that our hennie wouldn’t still be interested in sitting around to hatch some eggs by the time I had enough purebred eggs for her, especially since now I’m only getting 1/day from my Buff Mamas. {Come to think of it, I wonder if she’s not letting anyone in and they’re laying somewhere else……?} Anyway, I decided to just let her keep the 4 she started with on Thursday night, and hope that she’ll hatch some of them out around May 9 or so. Then, if another hennie decides to go broody later in the season, we’ll already have the Buffs isolated and can have a clutch of purebred eggs for her in no time. At least I hope. We’ll see what happens!

Begging your forgiveness…

I don’t have any excuses other than LIFE. Life has prevented me from sharing it with you. It started with chickens. We have 15. We started with 16, arriving June 11, but one little girl was lost at about 3 weeks. I’m not sure what happened. One day everyone was fine, the next she was sitting very still, and 2 days later she was gone. The surviving 15 grew big and strong and now live outside in a moveable chicken house {“eggmobile”}. We asked for 4 roosters {1 each: Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Dominique, Rhode Island Red} but it looks like we didn’t get a Rhody. The Barred Rock seems to be the bossman, but after attacking our daughter this weekend, he’s been put on Death Row. I’m still trying to decide if it would be better to eat him or keep him – he’s the largest and the only one that crows. So for now I don’t let the kids in the pen without me, and I’m trying to “train” him {read: putting my boot in his face whenever he comes near me; seems to be working so far}.

The garden was a huge success {for me}! I planted late, due to our move in April, but we were able to get LOTS of cucumbers and zucchinis, crook neck squash, Bennings Green Tint Squash {a scalloped variety}, and Sungold Cherry Tomatoes. I didn’t plant enough paste tomatoes to make anything substantial, and our larger tomatoes {Azoychka and Black Tula} just didn’t produce much. I was proud of the corn {Country Gentleman} until a few stalks broke {?} and I think the poor drainage and maybe poor sunlight of that corner of the garden led to under-development of the kernels. In August I planted kale, chard, kohlrabi, broccoli and cabbage all of which I hope to overwinter as long as possible. I also planted a few lettuces but I plan to harvest them before any significant cold weather. This weekend or next I will be building one or two cold frames to see what I can do with seed through the winter. Fingers crossed!

We are always searching for land and have visited a few more places:
Monterey, VA: Beautiful landscape, growing local food community. Nearly completely land-locked but huge mountainy mountains. Locals are currently driving an hour and a half to Wal-Mart for groceries every week because there is NO grocery store. No Co-Op, No library, No coffee shop. It’s not a tourist thoroughfare by any means and the only hotel in town is literally crumbling. Oh, and the tiny school system (200 kids, k-12) is shrinking, which tells me the town itself is dying. Very sad. With 30 other couples like us it could be saved, but I’m not sure how that happens…
Floyd, VA: We each spent time here before and after we met, and have always loved this little town. Our recent visit was lovely though very short. The land prices are great: $4,000/acre for most properties. Just 40 minutes from my Alma Mater, it’s high on my list of Towns I’d Love to Live In, but it seems like a lot of things we want to do are already being done by other farms in the area. They are even working on opening a heritage skills school with a grant from the government. Sheesh!

I’ve been looking a lot at Nelson County, VA, though we haven’t visited yet. Nelson County borders the Shenandoah National Park/Skyline Drive/Appalachian Trail so many of the properties we’ve found have amazing views. I have a couple good friends in Arrington, VA, so I might be able to gain some credibility in the community more quickly than other places…? Plus, there are three breweries and four wineries on the main highway through the county: lots of great things happening in the area, it seems. Only downside: land prices, still high at $6,000/acre.

The gist is: we’re still looking.

But the greatest news is that I have been working on our Mission/Vision and had two amazing brainstorming sessions over the past weekend. Basically, I’ve figured out how to focus my energy and my seemingly endless list of “what kind of things would I like to do on my farm?” into 6 categories: Food, Health, Family, Community, Spirit and Education.

We will make the connection between people and their FOOD, by building COMMUNITY, nourishing whole body HEALTH, strengthening the bonds of FAMILY, challenging the norms in EDUCATION all while honoring the SPIRIT.

No one part of our mission is more important than the other, so we could just as easily say: We will build COMMUNITY by making the connection between people and their FOOD, nourishing whole body HEALTH, etc, etc.

Owl Moon Farms Mission

And, lest you insist this is too much for one family, have no worries. I am starting to believe the only way to accomplish my dream farm goals is to enlist the help of one, or two, or four other families that share similar dreams. Between the lot of us, surely we can build something amazing. Stay tuned…

What Does Homesteading Mean to You?

For me, homesteading began with food. After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, all I wanted to do was find, grow and eat local food. I was convinced the only way for my family to eat a grassfed turkey for Thanksgiving was to grow it myself. That’s the moment I became a farmer.

Unfortunately, I was still living smack-dab in the middle of suburbia, so raising livestock just wasn’t an option. While I waited for my farm dreams to come true, I focused my energy on things I could do immediately to feed my family more healthfully, while saving money, so that we could one day be able to live on a farm.

At that time, my oldest child was only a few months old, and we were drinking organic milk and eating organic vegetables, but we were still fully engaged in the industrial food system. I made it my goal to visit the Farmer’s Market every week that summer, and found a wide variety of foods I had never heard of. And boy, was it expensive! I realized immediately that if we were going to be purchasing real food, from real farmers, we were going to have to spend less in other areas of our life to make up the difference. And it was something I was committed to.

That summer was the first time I ever cooked a whole chicken, and after three years I can finally say I feel comfortable with that. We started out roasting the whole bird every time, but I felt we were wasting a lot of meat {not to mention the carcass} so last year I started cutting the bird before cooking it. Now we eat the breasts and tenders one night, the legs another night, and save the carcass for making stock.

The challenge of cooking a real, whole chicken was just the beginning of my journey to homesteading. In the kitchen, we started baking our own bread, making our own jam and apple butter, and eating fresh, local vegetables nearly every night of the week. One way we save money for fresh veggies is pretty simple: we purchase less meat, and instead rely on other non-meat forms of protein, like beans. I now have hundreds of delicious vegetarian recipes that allow my family to enjoy our meals together – and feel satisfied –without eating chicken breasts every night. Those three meals we get out of our Farmer’s Market chicken? They last us three weeks. We limit our dinners out, and buy almost no prepared foods, opting instead to make our own popcorn, rice crispy treats, fruit bars, and more. Making our own food means I know exactly what goes into everything, and allows me to eliminate sugar almost entirely. We don’t buy “instant” oatmeal, and rarely do we buy cereal. Instead we make our own oatmeal, granola, muffins, and scones and spend those dollars we save on pasture-raised chicken eggs which we enjoy almost every other day.

Rather than purchasing canned beans, we buy dry beans in bulk. They’re ridiculously affordable, and really not that hard to prepare, so I feel good knowing my kids are eating organic beans, organic rice, organic barley, and organic oats. We buy bushels of fruit when they’re in season, meaning we pay much less for “low-spray” fruit that was grown right around the corner – which is good for us, and good for the farmer who grew it.

But homesteading means more than just where you shop for groceries. To me, it’s a lifestyle. And what’s interesting is that a lot of our frugal family choices are ecologically-friendly too. We chose cloth diapers for our children because we couldn’t stand to send bags and bags of paper diapers to the landfills where they would never decompose, so we reduced our environmental impact while also saving thousands of dollars in disposable diapers. We use cloth napkins, towels and washcloths in the kitchen. The kids and I use cloth wipes at home, meaning we buy about ¼ the toilet paper we did two years ago. We shop at thrift stores and consignment stores for nearly everything for the kids and myself {My husband works a “real job” so he shops the big sales for his work clothes, or uses Christmas money to purchase new items}. Clothes, shoes, toys, books, canning jars, bookcases – whatever you need, you can probably find it used and for a lot less than what you would pay at a retail store. I still use Amazon for hard-to-find books, but purchase them used whenever possible. We utilize Craigslist for big-ticket items like our {1996 Ford F150} farm truck, our {1974 Massey Ferguson 135} tractor, and the trailer we’re using for our eggmobile. Every purchase is made with re-useability and longevity in mind. I absolutely abhor re-buying things, so I sometimes spend a little more now {say, $30 on a set of enamelware picnic plates} instead of spending more over time for something that will be thrown away.

We try to save money and do-it-ourselves in other ways too. We believe children deserve a better education than what is being offered in public schools today, but the cost of private school is insane, so instead, we plan to homeschool our two children. We will have the opportunity to spend countless hours of quality time with them, not just rushing them to and from the bus every day. We get to take extended vacations – any time of year, like during the “off-season” when attractions are easily half as expensive. We can really get to know them, and they us, as we grow and learn as a family.

We eliminate unnecessary expenses wherever we can and utilize free programs and events in town like story time at the library, music in the park, parades, festivals, etc. And though I can’t seem to get my husband to give up the television, we only pay for basic, basic subscription now. Don’t get me wrong, we both have iPhones {good luck trying to get mine away from me}. We choose to spend a little extra on our cell phones and instead gave up having a landline.

And now that we have moved to a place with a little more space – we’re doing more “real” homesteading. We built a garden and have planted mostly beans, some tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, squash and a few other things, with the hope that we can dry and can the excess to use over winter. This is our first real attempt at stocking a larder, so my expectations are very low. Saving seeds will allow us to spend less next year when it comes time to replant the garden. And eggs? The biggest expense in switching to a whole food, grassfed diet, is animal protein, and eggs are no exception. We were paying $4.00 per dozen in Georgia, $5.00 over the winter, and found a farmer at our local Farmer’s Market here in Pennsylvania that will sell them for $6.00/doz. For a family that now eats about 2 dozen eggs per week, it was easy to see what our second farm enterprise would be. Growing, feeding and caring for 12 laying hens will not be very cost-effective this year {we don’t expect to get eggs until late fall}, but with plans to feed our birds entirely on grass and then hatch out our own chicks next year, we hope to reduce our off-farm inputs dramatically in the future.

I have grand plans for our little farm {like, maybe someday it won’t be so little}, but in the mean time I’m doing everything I can to make living closer to home more comfortable and enjoyable. I experiment with everything in our CSA box; learning to cook once-foreign vegetables has become somewhat of a delight for me. I read books. All the time. I’m getting a thorough and enjoyable “free” education in composting, organic gardening, raising grassfed meat, raising chickens, living more sustainably, homeschooling, sewing, knitting, and more. I attend free seminars, did a few months worth of an un-paid internship last year, and have joined every club and Facebook Group I can find involved in the local food/local anything community where I now live. And I write this blog, where I can share my experience with you, and hope that you will share yours too.Image

Homesteading in the 21st Century

I have been struggling for months to establish my farm philosophy. One thing I often consider is how to incorporate technology into my life, without allowing it to take away from the non-technical aspects. Whether to purchase paper books, or e-books is an issue that I think about a lot. And this blog, for example. I want to share my farmsteading experiences with people all over the country (and the world!), and in this era, blogging is the best way to do it. I can write about what we’re doing, share pictures, resources, whatever! And I get to hear the feedback from my readers,

I have watched this video quite a few times over the past year, and twice again last week. I’ve been roasting whole chickens for a few years now, but I’ve never been able to get more than one meal out of each bird, so I thought parting the bird might help me extend the investment. So I was inspired to give it a shot! I got my whole chicken from Athens Locally Grown and after it was completely thawed, I was ready.

21st Century Chicken

I had to pause and rewind the video a few times, and I regret that my knife was not truly sharp enough, but I got it done without any real problems. We’ll be eating the chicken breasts & tenders with spinach and noodles tomorrow night and I put the rest in the freezer.

The result!

The most important thing I learned from the video, other than how to part the chicken, of course, is WHY and when to do it, when selling chickens off the farm. Birds that weigh less than 5lbs after being butchered, should be sold as whole birds. Carcasses over 5lbs can be parted because you’re likely to get at least one pound of chicken breast from each one.

First Day at Lazy B

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from my first day as an intern with Lazy B Farm, so I wore jeans and boots and brought my notebook and pen along too, just in case. I was greeted by half of the children on the farm, and had a lovely conversation with them while we waited for Cyndi to finish up a little household stuff before we headed outside.

First, we fed the animals. Chickens, guineas, cows, dogs and goats. We gathered a few eggs from the henhouse and then we did some gardening. I have a small plot of a garden in our backyard, but it’s never produced more than a few very tart tomatoes, so one thing I am really hoping to learn more about this year is gardening. The UGA Cooperative Extension (just like most Cooperative Extension offices throughout the US) does a Master Gardener class every year, on Tuesdays. It just so happens that this mama, with two days off, filled them up so quickly I was shocked at all the great opportunities I have had to turn down. So instead of gardening, UGA is teaching me to compost. Maybe when we get to PA I can take a more intensive gardening course. Until then, I have Cyndi.

So, anyway, we weeded a bed that was previously home to tomatoes and is currently home to the most delicious-smelling Dill you’ve ever smelled. It was slow-going, carefully pulling handful after handful of Henbit from around the dill, but the smell made it worth it. (Made me hungry too, but that’s another story.) It turns out the chickens and goats really love to eat the stuff, so we filled our buckets and tossed it over the fences, making a couple beasts very, very happy.

After the gardening we headed back to the henhouse. Cyndi had to move some hay, so she instructed me to “gather the eggs, clean out the boxes and then put in some new shavings.” Confession: My first day on a new job is all about figuring out the boss. Does she prefer 100 questions or would she rather I give it a go and ask questions later? So, I chose B, and with the aid of Cyndi’s youngest, proceeded to to about half of what Cyndi expected from me. Luckily, Cyndi was just a quick phone call away, “So, you want me to clean all the chicken boxes?” “Uh, ya, all of them.” So I got back in there, and cleaned out the rest of the boxes. And I added clean shavings to all of them (just to have the silly birds come in and scratch and kick and knock about 50% of it on the floor. Thanks, ladies). Cyndi checked on me, began putting away her tools, and headed for the house, leaving me to finish in the henhouse. When I was finished I went to let myself out of the chicken house and found the door LOCKED. Yes, locked. I thought, okay, you’re an adult, you can figure this out. Is it really locked? Not just stuck? No, it was really locked. Is there an indoor lock I missed? No, it’s a slider bar lock like in a public restroom, on the outside. Hmmm…. I knew Cyndi and the girls were all inside, so yelling probably wouldn’t help. I looked behind me at the door the chickens use to get in and out and seriously wonderered if I could make it through. I called Cyndi’s cell only to get her voicemail. So, I was forced to make my exit through the tiny door the chickens use. But I made it, and walked across the yard to the fence/gate and let myself out. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it was a farm-hazing-style prank. I’m still not 100% convinced it was an accident, but, oh well. I’m out, the ladies gave me some yummy lunch, and all is well. More next time!

Clockwise from Upper Left: Ready for Planting, Happy Chicken, Locked In, More Happy Chickens, Weeds