Brier Hill Permaculture

1 02 2012

We are official. I picked a name for our little gem of a farm, and I’m sticking to it.

I finally gave in and started calling myself a farmer. I have wanted to be a farmer since I was about 10 years old and living next to a horse pasture. I remember looking out the window at the neighbor’s horses and thinking “Yes, that is what I want; a horse farm is in my future.” As I grew, my dream evolved and changed with my growing knowledge. I wanted a permaculture farm before I even knew what permaculture was. In my young mind’s eye, every farm should be permaculture, with all the different systems supporting each other. I thought real farms were living, breathing organisms, with a life and pulse all their own.

It turns out I was more or less right. I don’t think of industrial agriculture as farming anymore. I think I only ever did because that is what children’s stories and books depict modern farming as: some man of ambiguous age riding a tractor through a monoculture crop of some type of grain. Either that or an idealized version of Old MacDonald’s farm.

In reality, the truth is so much better. I wake up more or less around 5am every day, shortly before the rooster starts crowing. I toss and turn until the urge to relieve myself gets to be too much to ignore. Check the baby one more time before I get up. Starting the day with dawn is just lovely. I step out while the water is boiling for my first cup of tea, breath in the new day’s air, get a feel for what today’s weather might bring. Check the goat’s water and hay, feed the chickens and check for eggs in their new nest buckets. Come back inside, grab my now-cool-enough-to-drink tea and head back into the bedroom so I can wake the baby for another snack, if I keep her full she sleeps later.

As I drink my tea and nurse the baby I think about what I want to get done for the day. Since the snowstorm mid-January, the weather has been nice enough that the house is making a lot of progress on the garden and animal housing. Echo, Bean and I recently spent an afternoon clearing old stubby blackberry canes into a pile for our new hugelkultr bed in the garden while Tricks made some sweet new underground chicken nests since our hens FINALLY started laying eggs. We got 5 the first day!!

Last week I put in my seed order with Sustainable Seed Co, arguably one of the best seed companies I’ve had the pleasure of doing business with. Everything they sell is heirloom and open-pollinated.

So, going back to my original point, I finally gave in and decided to start calling myself a farmer. I feel like I finally got to join some secret club. Like, now that I call myself a farmer, do I get a badge, or an id card? “It’s okay folks, I’m a farmer!”

I have always wanted to be a farmer. My success with growing things it hit or miss, but I keep trying and I keep getting better. I am giving some serious thought to trying to join the local farmer’s market this summer. It runs from mid-May to mid-October, and would be cheaper and easier to start doing than a CSA, at least until I have an established clientel. But I am already about to start hardening off my first seedlings of the year, a mixture of salad greens and radishes. I think I should be able to get the hang of succession planting between now and May, and with all these blackberry vines and manure sitting around, I have an endless supply of materials for more hugelkultr beds.

Once I embraced the woman I have always wanted to be, and I mean I grabbed her by the dirty pigtail braids and gave her a damn good shake to make sure we were all on the same page, everything sort of started falling into place. I don’t feel like I am fighting myself anymore. I am happy more. And I’ve found a way to combine my passions – good food, animals, and gardening, with some more recent needs – working from home so I can also raise our daughter in a way that lines up with my morals and views, with a long time need of making money.

Bean will never have to fight it. She has been born into farming. She’s known goats and chickens since before she was born. She knows goats and chicks now. She has been strapped to my back while I chop wood, cut down trees, clear blackberry vines, build garden beds, herd goats and more. Her first taste of food will be of real food, grown and raised right here on this property. We aren’t that far from the city. We could just let the land keep sitting and it will just do what it does. We could keep trying to find a way to make a living in the corporate rat race, we could struggle trying to make ends meet while living on welfare and food stamps. Or we could use some of those food stamps to buy vegetable seeds (yes, it’s true, you can!) and start a garden. We choose to make a life rather than live one doled out to us one unsatisfying portion at a time.

I’m happy with my choice. I am happy there is dirt under my nails at the end of the day, and that my muscles are so sore that sitting up straight hurts. I think this is a good life we are creating here and I can’t wait to share it with others.


Brownie Out, Buttercup In

19 09 2011

Well, on SUnday we said goodbye to Brownie, our Oberhasli herd queen and producer of fine milk. We’ve been waiting to find her a home until the end of milking season, as her loss cuts our daily milk production by half. Brownie was a good goat, but because I am trying to breed smaller goats, her size and flightyness made her more of a problem than an asset. Once she started giving less milk, and it became clear that she was physically healthy, it was time to bid her farewell. I am sure she will be quite happy in her new home, with two does similar in size to her that have their horns as well.

Taking her place as my herd queen is Buttercup. Buttercup is a smaller LaMancha with a wonderful, sweet temperament and a passion for staying in one place. She loves to eat, and is already doing a great job keeping the herd eating right alongside her. She prefers browse, pasture and foraging over eating hay, so I am pleased that she wants to stay out and eat the free food for as long as possible. Not only is this easier on the feed budget, but it produces healthier animals and better tasting milk.

The first thing I did yesterday at milking time was take the bell off Brownie’s collar, and adorn Buttercup with her very own collar and bell, signifying to the household (and maybe to the goats) that she is the queen now.

I think that even my goat-herd helpers C and P are pleased that Brownie is gone and that Buttercup has replaced her. Brownie had no problem with forcing the other goats back to the pen before they were ready, mainly because she prefers the easy life of eating hay and not having to work for her food. Hopefully she will get plenty of that in her new home.

Now all I need is that mobile goat pen so I can take them out in the morning and leave them to forage all day. It will free up a lot of time that Bean will be demanding from me in the upcoming weeks.

One final note for this post. Our new little buck is taking his job quite seriously. Navin has been courting Nelly and Buttercup, both of whom have gone into heat this week. Here’s hoping that they both kid in February! We’ll know by Christmas or so if they are pregnant for sure. So next year, we may be adding chevon to our freezer and availability with the chicken eggs and goat milk, cheese and soap. I daresay this herd share thing is going to be downright spiffy.

Poultry Processing Class

17 09 2011

Today was a nice day on the farm. It was the first real “brisk” day of Fall-ish weather. It never really got cold today, but the wind did start picking up and by the time it finally got dark, the rain had started. We here are all hoping that we will get a couple more weeks of late Summer before we really have to head inside for the Winter.

Anyhow, after Echo and I took the goats out this morning, we all started clearing out some brush piles by the goat pen so we can expand our fence line and make a real chicken coop for the egg layers. Everyone worked together on that for an hour or so before we realized we had a class to go to.

That’s right, class. We finally learned how to butcher chickens. I found someone through the Seattle Farm Coop that was teaching a chicken butchering class for a very reasonable fee plus we got to bring our chicken home afterwards. The class started at 3, and we were all back on our way home by 6pm. We each got to try our hand at killing, plucking and eviscerating a chicken.

I was quite nervous to actually kill a bird myself, and ended up going after everyone else had a turn. M got a little too exuberant with the neck snapping part on his first try, and completely decapitated the bird. But there were plenty of chickens that needed to go, so he had a chance to perfect his technique. By the fourth bird, M was quite good at it.

Killing the bird was the hardest part, but even that wasn’t so hard once I got started. I didn’t want it to suffer, so I was more focused on making sure I killed it than the fact that I WAS KILLING IT. One thing I learned is that if you don’t restrain the bird after snapping its neck, it will flap its wings until the joints dislocate. After killing a bird, we immediately took them over to some cones to restrain the birds and cut their throats so they could bleed out properly. If the bird has its head removed the blood clots faster and it is harder to completely bleed it out. In the future we will be perfecting our technique so the neck gets broken and paralyzes the bird, but also so when we cut the throat the heart is what is pumping the blood out instead of it passively draining.

After the bird had bled out (which doesn’t take all that long, chickens have surprisingly little blood) we hosed them off, dunked them in the hot water and then plucked them. Then they went into a tub of cold water until all the birds had been plucked and then we did some eviscerating.

Not to be morbid or anything, but evisceration was my favorite part. It was also our instructor’s young daughter’s favorite part. She liked to point out chicken parts and ask lots of questions. Pretty cute! It was fairly quick and easy to do the eviscerating, and my hands are small enough that I could really get in the chest cavity.

After we eviscerated our birds, we were shown how to clean and prep the heads and feet for soup stock, we took our organ meats and were headed home. Echo and Tricks are planning on roasting up their bird tomorrow, and I am having Mr. Ewe put our chicken into the freezer until Bean’s birth. I want to use our first bird we killed together to make my chicken noodle soup for my first post-birth meal.

By the time we got home I was so excited and relieved from the class and what I had learned, it felt like a high. I was so nervous to go to the class, and so relieved that I was able to do each step on my own. Everyone should have to kill something they plan on eating at least once. It is completion of the whole circle of life thing. So important.

The chickens for our class came from a local farm that raises the birds on pasture. I have never seen such healthy organ meat before. What we buy in the store is a far cry from what a real, fresh, healthy bird looks like. I had no idea until today how sickly factory-farmed meat really is.

Echo and Tricks want to raise pastured broiler chickens next year as an addition to my goat and egg share and the house/co-op’s CSA. I like the idea of each of us contributing to farm in our own way, with the whole house benefiting from everyone’s hard work.

I think Mr. Ewe, Bean and I are going to throw down on some meat birds next year, too. I would love to have a crop of home-grown, pastured birds in the freezer to feed my pets and family on. I am no longer afraid to kill and harvest any poultry we may have in the future. In fact, one thing I am actively planning on now, in addition to the goat share, egg share, and broiler chickens is to have home-raised turkeys to sell for next Thanksgiving. Even if we just do 10 turkeys and sell them to our closest friends, I want more people to have access to food like this. I would even invite people to come partake in the harvest event. I think a goat share and a poultry share is the way to go. And if we get really lucky, a couple of our turkeys will bond and mate so we can have a self renewing supply of turkeys in addition to our other animals for a harvest year after year.

I have already spent hours pouring over the American Livestock Breed Conservancy website and cross-referencing it with Murray McMurray Hatchery and Sandhill Preservation Center, looking for the heritage breeds that I think would do best in our micro climate while filling our particular needs. But I’ll go over breeds and my poultry and farm dream list some other day. For now, I leave you with a franken chicken, who was too large to fit inside a 1 gallon ice cream tub. I have no idea how we are going to freeze this thing, it’s a monster (it was also a rooster, not a hen.)

The New Goat Buck is Here, The New Goat Buck is Here!

14 09 2011

On Monday we brought home our newest herd member: Navin R. Johnson. He is a yearling mini La Mancha buck, and will hopefully be the proud papa of several newer herd members next Spring.

We’ve never had a buck before, so once again we are jumping in with both feet. We are taking a crash course right now in buck nutrition, and goat courting and mating behavior. He is “unproven” which means he has never bred before. Here’s hoping we get lots of adorable, stocky, colorful little goats in 5 months.

Navin is a sweet little guy that is happy to follow the girls around and court them, day and night. He seems to have set his sights on Buttercup, our full-size La Mancha doe, mother to Gigi, our mini La Mancha yearling doe. If Navin is out of sight chances are he is on the other side of Buttercup, out of view. It is so funny watching him run around chortling at her. It’s like he is trying his hardest to convince her to grow shorter so he can reach!

So with Navin here I think the plan is to finish the goat pen addition, the barn and quite possibly the chicken coop this weekend so we can take down our little goat shack. And next week we are finally picking up our round bales of hay after more than a couple set-backs. This upcoming winter we are also planning on putting up a 24-hour live farm cam aimed at the goat pen.

We have lots of big things coming down the pike in the next year, including a new business name for the farm with an attatched Etsy shop and website, broiler chickens, meat rabbits, a small CSA and a goat share for those of you interested in obtaining farm fresh eggs, milk, meat and vegetables!

Stay tuned, there is lots coming!

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