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.

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January on the Farm

15 01 2012

Companion planting guide

January sure did start out warm here, and pretty much the rest of North America from what I gather. It’s hard to argue against the Global Warming theory when it is so much warmer than previous winters.

Mr. Ewe and I took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to get some last minute work done outside. No, the goat barn still doesn’t have a permanent roof, but a bill board-sized tarp seems to be doing the job fairly well, even if it is tacky. But we got all the old dirty hay shoveled out of the the pen (20 wheelbarrow loads worth) and spread it out in the garden where one of my new beds will be going in this spring. We then brought in 20 wheelbarrows loads worth of fruit tree wood chips we had delivered for free from a local tree service company. Then we cleaned out the barn (another 12 wheelbarrow loads!) and put that in the back of the orchard next to the potato tires for our next batch of seed potatoes, as well as for cob mixing and building experiments later this Spring.

I got the chicken coop cleaned out and replaced one of the roost-ladders I had made last summer (that cracked when one of the goats decided to make herself comfortable in the chicken coop) with a couple apple branches the goats had graciously stripped of bark. So now the chicken coop looks pimp. The barn is sweet because Mr. Ewe finally made a hay-bale feeder so we can feed one whole bale at a time, so we put that in there alongside an 8’x2′ pallet/goat bed and they seem to be pretty damn happy lately. They don’t hang out by the gate all day waiting for human hand-outs which I love.

The only problem I have with all of this is that the goats are never hungry anymore. You wouldn’t think that’s a problem, but I can’t let un-hungry goats out of the pen and expect them to just stay in the field and eat. Nope, they are wicked little beasts when they are feeling mischievous.  A week and a half ago, I let them out to forage back in the woods. Nelly took one look at me and took off through the front yard, down the driveway, up around the house, back down the driveway all the way to the road, down the road to the neighbors driveway, down the neighbors driveway to the back of our property and then they all squeezed through a previously unknown hole in the fence and right into our raspberry patch, taking all 6 of the other goats with her. Now this whole time, I am chasing after them waving my shiny aluminum goat-stick and Bean is strapped to my chest in her moby wrap. You should have seen the look on the driver’s faces when we stopped traffic to take a stroll down the road to the neighbor’s place.

What all of this amounts to is that I am done letting the goats out of their pen unless I have a mobile pen to move them to, and I do it one goat at a time. They know I am weak now that I can’t chase after them. They sniff Bean, they aren’t stupid, they know what a baby is. They know a new mom is the slowest member of a herd, and Nelly is challenging my herd queen status while I am slower than her. Just wait, once she kids this spring, she and her daughter from last year are outta here. I will probably sell them off as quick as I can as a starter herd. Good riddance.

Still no word from my buck’s previous owner regarding his registration. I’m really screwed without that, as my entire crop of next year’s kids were supposed to be registered via him. I can only hope she will eventually reply to my emails, and that it all works out.

One more reason those damn goats need a mobile pen is because we are expanding the garden this year. Last year I just got here too late, and had too much else going on, so I just used the one little bed that was full of weeds. I was so miserable with morning sickness I just didn’t give a damn. We got a decent little crop of peas and strawberries, but with a baby that will be eating solids this summer, I want her first foods to be home grown.

Now that I am feeling slightly closer to a more normal version of myself, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about my garden layout. I am planning on expanding by two more raised beds this spring for a total of three. I am planning on turning all of them into covered rows probably for a majority of the year. I am thinking I will just plan that this summer will be as cool and rainy as last year so I plant the proper things.

In order to maximize diversity in my limited space I’ve been doing quite a bit of research into companion planting, and I just picked up TheOne Straw Revolution from the library. Now I just have to find enough time to read, plan and plant a garden. Right now there is only one thing growing, about 100 cloves of garlic.

I can’t even begin to stress how important I think growing a garden is. I’ve really only had three seasons of actual gardening time in my entire life, so I am quite a novice still. But I would rather try growing 100 things and fail at 99 of them, then to not try at all and be at the mercy of the current food supply. Every time I fail in the garden, I learn something to not do next time, and I get better. My goal is to someday be able to produce all of our food ourselves.

I take my job as mother, wife, and living, breathing member of this planet very seriously, and I think knowing how to care for my people and being able to feed them is a big part of that job.

Our power went out this morning, and it was great to realize it wasn’t that big of a deal. We had a fire going, a kettle on the fire place, all the roommates gathered to hang out by the fire. There was nothing upsetting or panicky about not having the energy system turned off, and even once the power came back on, there was no real rush to go back to our electronic gadgets.

There is going to come a day in my lifetime where that is a more common occurrence than not, whether by my own personal design, or a larger collapse of the system. I like a life less electronic. Yes, I understand the irony of the fact that I am typing and you are reading this on a computer. But I can survive without the interwebs, it is not my lifeline to reality, nor is it my reality.





Tasting Goats Milk

20 09 2011

I saw this post today at The Prairie Homestead, and it got me thinking about my first experiences with goat milk.

When I first got the goats, I had no plan on ever drinking the milk. Strange, right? Why on earth did I agree to get a herd of DAIRY goats, and not plan on drinking the milk?

I loved milk, I still do. I loved the flavor of whole milk, the rich creamy flavor, how it clung to my palate. I liked cream, I would add heavy cream to my whole milk some days just so it was creamier. I was addicted to store bought cow’s milk. Most of the time, I went out of my way and budget to buy organic milk. I thought it tasted better. Once in a blue moon, I would treat myself to the milk that came in the glass bottles. It wasn’t homogenized, but it was still pasteurized. I felt that being able to poor the cream off into my cup and drink it all at once was decadent. And as a very special, rare treat, I would fork over the cash for some raw cow’s milk, when I could find it.

I hated goat’s milk. I had bought some of the stuff that comes in the 1 quart cardboard containers before, and felt it fell flat in flavor to the rich creamy goodness of cow’s milk. Oh, I just didn’t know any difference. The store bought goat’s milk was awful. It tasted so old, so flat, so cardboardy. How could anyone be willing to drink this? And don’t even get me started on the price of store bought goat’s milk products: cheese, milk, yogurt. Those prices are outrageous.

So knowing how I felt about all of this, I still went ahead and took possession of that herd of goats. M and I milked them together the first couple of weeks. It was a terrible experience. The goats didn’t know us, we didn’t know them. They were in a new and strange place with new, strange people and a new, strange routine.

They came to us with everything the previous owner had been feeding them: 1 musty bale of hay that I thought for sure was straw until they started eating it, and 2 bags of C.O.B. mix.(COB is Corn, Oats, and Barley, with a heavy coat of molasses on it. The corn makes the milk taste funky, which we soon found out.) The previous owner would just catch the goats in no particular order, tie them up one at a time to a fence, and start milking.

The goats were so poorly behaved, most of the milk from that first week M and I were milking them ended up on the ground or down the drain.

The precious little we managed to get from the goats that didn’t get stepped in, kicked, or knocked over had an unforgettable “grassy” flavor. It was repulsive. It tasted like a mouthful of grass from the lawnmower bag. It confirmed everything I had previously though about goat milk: it tasted like shit.

So I started making plans to use the milk to make soap, began down sizing my herd, used up that crappy feed the lady had given us and switched all the goats over to ultra-premium hay and grain. It took me a while to realize I didn’t have to control the goats with grain, but I had to get knocked over and stepped on a few times for that lesson to sink in.

But a miraculous thing started to happen. As the goats got better nutrition and started looking, acting and feeling healthier, as we settled into some semblance of routine and order, as we all got more comfortable with each other, the flavor of that milk began to change. It kept getting sweeter, richer and creamier. It became downright delicious, and pretty soon I realized we hadn’t bought cow’s milk in quite a while. When I realized that, I went right out to the store and bought some cow milk. I needed a side by side flavor comparison. What I realized was that the flavor of whole cow’s milk was flat and watery and stale tasting compared to this fresh, raw goat milk. My skin had cleared up, my teeth were whiter and felt stronger, milk no longer left me with stale breath after I drank a glass.

I was drinking more milk than ever, I couldn’t get enough goat milk. I can no longer drink cow milk unless it is a dire emergency. It’s been long enough that my gut gets upset when I drink pasteurized, homogenized cow milk.

My milk is probably more expensive now that it ever was. I spend many hours a day making sure the goats have access to fresh pasture and browse (weeds!) I spend time thinking about them, worrying about them, planning for a future with them. I spend time cleaning their pen and sleeping areas, making sure they have water, and that they are warm and dry when the weather gets bad. I keep my chickens in with the goats so we can keep the bugs down, which adds a whole new level of complexity to caring for the goats. My partner spends several hours a week working to make sure we have money to buy hay for them, and that we have a buck for kids and milk next year. This all takes a great deal of time, energy, and effort. Much more so than going to the store and picking up a gallon when we are low. But all that work makes this milk taste better than anything I could buy from a store.

I love sharing this with other people. I love watching the look of disbelief come over a non-believers face when I force that first sip of fresh milk on them. I love talking to people who remember what real milk used to taste like, and want to get on a mailing list for a goat share next year. I love that there is enough interest in a goat share for me to go ahead and start doing the research this Winter. Next year is going to be amazing, and I am going to have so many people to share it with.





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.






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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