Where does the time go?!?!

I have the best of intentions of keeping up with the blog side of farming. All too often the work side has me up and down with the sun – the bits of rest I snatch during the day are consumed by meals and loving on our house pups.

So here comes an attempt to capture what has happened since my last post in Late April through the end of June.

I re-set the goat fencing and we moved our pregnant Mama Maz just in time for her twin boys to arrive. It was a lengthy labor for which thankfully we both were home – Maz needed help and Leora put her nursing experience to work as she turned Dean’s hooves so he could emerge. Brother Sammy soon followed. Maz accepted Dean and we have been bowl-feeding Sammy. Both are doing well – they were recently banded (castrated) and will be up for sale as wethers soon.

I’m so thankful to have fresh milk again! Our Alpine gives a gallon+ of milk each day, and I happily make yogurt, ice cream, and cheese as often as possible. It’s impossible to find custard based non-cow milk ice cream and milk alternatives I’ve tried are (in my opinion) not great. I make mine using duck eggs – which thrilled one particular egg client. She’s allergic to hen eggs so this gives her a safe, delicious summer treat. To be honest, she’s the type of client I went into business for – someone that lives with food allergies/intolerances but doesn’t want to be deprived of deliciousness.

I built a super-cool scarecrow that got taken out by the month of rain we experienced in May. It totally worked! We saw deer emerge from the woods, stare directly at it, then go back into the woods. I loved watching the hair flow in the wind. Sigh. I’ll get it back up one of these days.

The re-routed goat fence gave me direct access to the field – and perfect ground for root vegetables. I recently harvested onions and 1/3 of my potato crop. Carrots are doing well here too, as are kale, cucumbers, peas, and beans. I love walking out my door, choosing what I want for my lunch or dinner stir-fry, and consuming it with an hour of harvest. What a grand way to live!

I talked so much about my fresh turkey that 3 egg clients asked me to raise them one this year. They moved into the new tractor yesterday and are enjoying outside life. Putting the wheels on it is giving me fits, but I have a new plan and will give it another go tomorrow. They’ll eventually move into a larger enclosed run – 6 is a few too many to free-range, especially when I’ve pre-sold three. The ducks and chickens will get another run extension and have tons of fresh greens delivered daily.

All our May rain means summer vegetables will be quite late this year. I’m just now seeing peppers and tomatoes appear on the vines – thankfully I got the plants in the ground just before all that rain – and should have ripe produce in another week or so. Thank goodness – I’ve been hoarding my last few jars of salsa! Okra got a late start, but my fingers are crossed that I’ll get a few harvested this year.

I’ve spent the last three years working to clear the field of saplings, stumps and rocks so I could plant my vegetables. With that accomplished – just a few stump/starts left – I’ve been working on plans to harvest the grasses, weeds, and other plants for our goats, chickens, and ducks to consume. It’s a difficult proposition as the field has a significant slope, the ground is rutted and filled with stones, and there are a variety of grasses/stalks that would make mowing – at least at this point – foolish if not impossible. No one wants broken machinery! So I’ve been methodically working in quadrants to deliver fresh greens to our animals. Goats get the brushy, prickly stuff in long form – but the chickens/ducks get it cut into inch/two inch pieces for easy consumption. It’s a tedious process, but I love seeing the progress. Now that the rains have past I’ll start working to cut larger sections, let it dry in the hot sun, then safely store it to use as hay this winter. If I do it correctly I’ll have happy animals and we will save a small fortune this winter.

So there you have it. Farm life keeps me busy and I do my best to tell the long form story. I’m a bit better at keeping up with my Instagram account, so look for me there for more frequent glimpses of my bit of heaven on earth.

Field Fence Redo

Winter 2018-2019 was tough – it lasted essentially 6 months with snow as early as October and cold/heavy rain through March. Spring has finally sprung and my field is greening up nicely – I’m currently growing a field of dandelions (for which my chickens and ducks are quite thankful!).

Last summer I really longed for a more direct route into my field – the circuitous route around the carport wasn’t bad…until I was carrying pounds of tomatoes! With a new goat run complete and the back half of the old one aging quickly, it seemed this project might happen…but I’d just rebuilt the front fence and it felt silly to rip it down for the sake of convenience.

Heavy rains followed by strong winds made the project a reality. One morning in mid-March I awoke to the site of my lovely new fence posts bouncing in the wind! The slope has eroded from the snow melt and heavy rain, and the winds blew in from the right (wrong?!?) direction to pull the posts right out of the remaining ground.

I chose to see a blessing in disguise and got to work.

All goats moved to the new run for a week. I removed removed fencing, our neighbor knocked the concrete from the posts, and I rest the fence line. I was able to reuse all materials and got the new fence installed quickly – we just needed bags of concrete.

 

 

The goat space is much smaller – perfect for mamas and babies and/or housing the goats up for sale. The well fertilized soil is loose and mostly weed free thanks to 2 years of goat activity – ideal for my onion and potato crops. I also moved my 3 arches up – this section will get a bit more shade so peas, kale, spinach, and lettuce will do well here. These arches can also be used for beans, cucumbers, even tomatoes.

Direct access to the field is such a blessing! I can easily collect grasses and weeds for my poultry, planting and harvest will be worlds easier, and the view from our front porch is lovely. I completed the project in a week – and immediately started on the next item on my to-do list. Spring!

Winter Wear

Hard to believe the first month of 2019 is already done. I’m often asked what I do during winter months – it surprises folks when I recount a typical winter days chores. Farming is a year-round business – and it requires an entirely different wardrobe!

Last week we had sub-zero wind chills – but cold weather doesn’t mean I get to stay inside. The animals still need feed, water, and outdoor access.

Cold is not my favorite weather, so I pile on the layers to keep myself warm and healthy while I care for my animals. In this photo I have on Carhartt coveralls, 2 pairs of leggings, 2 pairs of socks, Muck boots, long sleeve shirt, short sleeve shirt, 2 sweatshirts, 3 hats and 2 pairs of gloves. It was an extreme type of day!

We have heater lines on the water taps so I can get fresh water by buckets to the poultry and goats. Ice forms quickly so every 3-4 hours I’m out with my hatchet chopping through it. We tried heated submersible heating elements for the goat troughs, but they sap too much power and kept throwing the breaker. I have a heated water bucket for the chickens, but we’ve had power issues outside so keeping the taps flowing is my priority this season.

I’m astounded to watch the ducks take their morning bath, no matter how cold it is. They are fascinating creatures! The chickens stay inside when its really windy, but they flood the run when the sun emerges to soak up all the warmth possible.

Our youngest goat, Beru, is not a fan of the cold at all – she starts crying early and hides in the barn! Our half-Angora, Amylin, loves it and enjoys having the outdoor space to herself.

Cold is a good break for my soil, and all the snow/ice this year gives it lots of beneficial moisture. I’m happy to wear winter gear for a few months – but I’ll be thankful when spring arrives.

What Comes Next

2018 held so much for my small business – how exciting it is to look forward to 2019! Here are just a few highlights:

January: Feed planning, repaired/rebuilt existing goat run fence, clearing field for spring planting, overblown greenhouse

February: First batch of baby chicks, our first attempt at goat breeding (1 girl liked Solomon but the other didn’t!), and Darryl suffered the first of many injuries (he’s now happily living indoors with my parents)

March: Started more than 100 tomato and 100 pepper plant seeds, finished coop expansion in time for our neighbor’s chickens to join my flock, had my first experience with culling, Darryl suffered his second major injury – nearly lost a hind foot!

April: seedlings start going in the greenhouse for hardening, I dropped a huge post on my foot and was lucky to escape with only a puncture between my toes, borrowed our neighbor’s goat to breed our other female goat, chicks start moving outside – and I try to stop coming home from the feed store with new ones!

May: Begin barn remodel – tearing out old wall and floor, rebuilding interior wall and adding door, setting posts and constructing fence. More plants in the ground, lots of weed pulling, flower seeds to scatter, grasses to pull for chickens. I was gifted a baby girl goat by a friend and had my first experience bottle raising – she’s such a sweet gal! – and even took her to visit my Gran while she was undergoing rehab from a stroke. A peacock wandered onto the property one fine morning and scared me to death…and a blacksnake appeared on the porch one night!

June: Pool time makes for an excellent respite from weed pulling, harvesting, planting, mowing, constructing, tree and brush removal, and the gazillion other tasks that make up farm life. Borrowing my roommate’s convertible for egg and produce deliveries is another fine perk as summer begins to arrive in all its glory. Oh – I succeeded in bringing home now more chicks…but did bring home a duckling and a turkey baby. Ha! Plants are flourishing and I’m enjoying fresh produce each day.

July: I finished the goat run expansion in time for the first goat baby to be born on our property – such squeals of delight we had! We also purchased two more goats (mama and son) from friends (that was a hot drive but well worth it). I started canning pickles, salsa, and jams. We had yet more unexpected animal visitors – this time it was two horses from just down the street that decided to explore.

August: Friends and family continue to visit the farm – kids love running around and holding the animals. Every minute I’m not collecting eggs (40+/day now) or harvesting produce is spent preserving it. We are getting a quart a milk per day from our goat and starting to make our own yogurt, cheese, and ice cream in earnest. I also freeze milk for use over winter when mama goats are being bred/resting from milk production.

September: We take some time to catch our breath from a busy summer with a trip to our local Renaissance Festival. Baby girl goat #2 was born with no great fuss and is a sweet addition to our herd. We start making weekly trips to a local orchard for apples and peaches – jam is already in high demand and we’re preparing for a market event next month. My roommate started making soaps with our goat milk and decided to start her own small business too (Ask me about Francis Farms products!).

October: Turkey flew the coop – opting to explore the property on his own instead of living with either chickens or goats. As of publication he’s still around…but living on borrowed time. I’m thankful the days are beginning to shorten as I need to catch my breath. Time to start producing goods for sale over winter when egg production slows. Socks, blankets and canned good begin to stack up in my self-described workroom at the front of the house. The sales event is such a success that we book two more for later this year.

November: snow comes early this year. Chickens enjoy cast off pumpkins. Roommate has major back surgery that was wildly successful and she’s feeling fit as a fiddle these days. Colder, darker days mean happy dogs as I’m inside more often.

December: Finish up sales event, work to keep poultry and goats warm and dry through the winter. Willow – the border collie that arrived on our farm last year – needed to have her front leg amputated. She’s doing great and already gets around better than most of us two-legged creatures. I ordered my first ever batch of mail-order chicks – found a great deal on colored egg layers and decided to let go of fear and give this method a shot! They arrive later this week.

So what’s in store for 2019? Well, we’ll breed our 4 goat girls – we plan to sell the Alpine babies and milk those two mamas. If the smaller girls are bred to an Angora and have girl babies we may keep them for the fiber. Most of the produce I grow will be tomatoes and peppers as there is high demand for my salsa – but I’ll grow other things from household use. We plan to add plum trees and beehives to the orchard, plant more wildflowers, seed the lower field with grains for the goats, and start clearing some of the overgrown back property. We’d love to see a return of wild turkeys and pheasants to the property!

Oh – and I’ve promised Leora that any strays that stick around will be turned over to the proper authority so they can find another home – Darryl and Willow spent some serious time (and money!) and the vet this year!

PS: My darling Sumatra turns 10 next month…I may need to make her a cake.

 

 

 

 

 

Time to catch my breath

Whew! Last night was my third sales event in less than a month. It’s been a hectic season as I work to care for nearly 100 animals, clean up the fields for winter, and start expansion projects. With sales events done for the year (delivery on Wednesdays still available!) I’m hoping to catch my breath in the next couple weeks.

Sales events are fun, but they are a ton of work. Most of my product is foodstuffs, and canning jars can be mighty heavy! It’s always good to leave with less product than you bring in, and I got some good feedback on items to add to next year’s offerings. Having just started my 2nd year of selling, I’m feeling pretty good about my sales results. Plus, I did 3 events this year to last year’s 1 – improvement!

This year I decided to offer my crocheted socks for sale – they are a hit! I started making these lovelies when I was super ill 5 years ago and couldn’t keep warm. I gave some away to friends and family and they encouraged me to try selling them. I’m humbled by the response. I have a few pairs still in stock and am happy to take custom orders. Just fill out the short form below and I’ll get to work – happy to ship!

Lap blankets have also seen a good response. I made them for myself when I worked in an office – I couldn’t keep warm and got tired of my chair getting stuck on longer length blankets. They are great for office workers, those that are wheelchair bound, or even as a pet blanket. My pup loves them, and they are way easier to wash than those pricey pet beds. The form below will work to order them too – name your color!

What, that doesn’t sound like catching my breath? Well, when you move feed and concrete bags all day, the idea of sitting inside and working with yarn for a few hours is a welcome change.

Happy holidays, my friends!

 

Fall Sales Event

It’s been a rainy couple weeks…which means little getting done outside but lots inside work is complete! My goal is to be part of one big sales event each year, and this year it will be in Raytown, MO at the Holiday Shopping Frenzy – Saturday, October 27, 2018 from 10am-4pm at The Point.

20181016_fse04Applebutter was an unexpected hit last year, and I’ve been hard at work to have have a large supply ready! My applebutter is a blend of apples, brown and white sugars, cinnamon, and a dash of clove. I love to use it as a base for barbecue sauce or as filling for cinnamon bread (instead of sugar/cinnamon mix). Samples will be available.

I also make apple jam – a wonderful addition to oatmeal and other hot cereals – and applesauce. The applesauce has no added sugar – it’s just apples – making it a great option for those watching their sugar intake.

This year I also have cherry and peach jams. Most jams come in half-pint jars, but I had a special request for the super-small “taster” size jars also. I’ve prepared a few of those in peach and apple. If you are looking for stocking stuffers or small items to fill gift baskets/hostess gifts, this could be a unique choice!

Pickles were this year’s surprise hit – it was hard to keep up with demand for them! I’ll have the few remaining jars, and the last of my dill pickles also.

20181016_fse01I started making socks five years ago. The summer of 2013 I became quite sick (it’s a long story), and one side effect was that I could not keep warm. I modified a Christmas stocking pattern into house socks and they’ve become one of my favorite handcrafts. I make them from bulky yarn so they are toasty warm and durable – I wear them as house socks and they fit perfectly inside my Muck Boots when I need to head outside for chores. My friends and family have enjoyed these gifts and I’m happy to offer them for sale this year!

20181016_fse03My roommate will be joining me with her handmade goat milk soap and burlap bags. She uses burlap coffee bags I receive from a friend – each bag is unique, durable, and machine washable!

We’d love to meet you and help you mark a few items from your holiday shopping list. Hope to see you Saturday, October 27 in Raytown, MO!

Christmas Turkey

I love turkey! If you’re like me and love these tasty birds, but the price of a organically raised, heritage bird is daunting ($100 easy)…this post is for you. If not, you may want to bypass this post.

Turkey meat is rich but lean, and its large carcass supplies quarts of rich broth. With good planning you can stretch the cooked meat and carcass for a month’s worth of meals. Our dogs love the broth on their kibble (a wonderful fall/winter addition), and the chickens peck at the bones for some additional calcium. I cook at least 4 each year, and as I read about heritage turkey breeds I grew interested in raising one myself.

Finding a good quality turkey at a reasonable price can be difficult. Poultry is often raised in less than ideal conditions, and breeding practices that satisfy consumer appetite for white meat has led to birds unable to reproduce naturally.

Organically raised, heritage turkeys can cost $100 or more. Sound high? My baby Narragansett was $12 Рit will take her 6 months to reach harvest weight of 40 pounds. When you calculate feed and treats (veg, mealworms, etc.) РI would barely break even if I sold her for $100. I named her Christmas Рshe was purchased in June and will reach harvest weight by the holiday.

I’ve done my best not to get attached, but she’s a pretty cool bird. Christmas gets along with the chickens and ducks very well. It’s a hoot to see her stride around the runs and hear her gobble.¬†Christmas is best buds with the Blue Swedish duckling we picked up at the same time. If she outgrows the poultry space we’ll move her over to live with Finn – our lone male goat who’s not happy to be separated from his mama. And she may even live to see the New Year.

First Babies

What a summer on the farm! My days have been packed with field work, construction, food preservation, and more animal work than I anticipated…thus the 2 month absence here. As daylight hours lessen my time will shift indoors and I’ll be back to blogging about the ups and downs of farm life in Eastern Kansas.

Our goat herd has seen many changes this summer – and we have been flooded with the blessings.

20180917_goatbabies01Things got started in May, when a friend gifted me with an Alpine female. Rey was abandoned by her mama and needed bottle feeding – she’s grown like a weed and fitting in well with our other goats. It’s such a joy to have her follow me around the yard!

20180725_goatbabies02We bred Padme against an Angora, and her baby arrived in late July. Little Amilyn is a gorgeous little girl – with a personality like her cranky mama! She loves to run, jump, and explore the run. She’s quite small and will likely be pretty short. My roommate is researching fiber work – spinning, etc. – we’ll sell the results and/or create products.

20180917_goatbabies03We couldn’t believe it when our second bred goat, Leah, also gave birth to a girl! She was bred with a Boer goat owned by our neighbor. Little Beru was born mid-September and is full of energy. She’s sticking close to mom for now, but is curious about the other girls around her.

In boy news…

Yoda, our wether, was getting a little too boisterous for us, so we sold him to a very nice gentleman. He made it clear Yoda would have a lovely life enjoying all the shrub grass at his home.

We also purchased an adult Alpine and her son from my friends that recently sold their farm. The son is not related to Rey, so we now have a breedable registered pair (cha-ching!).

Alpines give a gallon of milk a day, so I’ve been trying my hand at cheese-making. We’ve also returned to preparing our own yogurt and ice cream. My roommate wants to try soap making, too!

With 6 females and 1 male our herd is right at our level of manageability. Future babies can be sold, which will help cover annual feed bills. Sustainability, here we come!

 

 

Why I Deliver

I’m often asked why I choose to deliver my products – fresh eggs, produce, and canned goods – to my clients instead of joining a CSA or participating in a farmer’s market. The answer is simple: I want to keep my prices low so anyone that wants to eat local, organically and humanely raised food can do so.

You may not be aware that there are costs associated with farmer’s markets. There is a fee to reserve a space (often required months in advance), limits to what you can sell (what type of produce, is it fresh or preserved, handcrafted goods, etc.), and of course booth costs. Next time you visit a farmer’s market take a moment to observe the stands. Most have banners with farm names, displays to show their goods to best advantage, some will have tablecloths, and don’t forget tables themselves! You can also expect these farmers to arrive extremely early and be there until their goods are sold.

That model just does not appeal to me.

When I lived in Raytown, MO I utilized a grocery delivery service – my research tends to indicate it was a similar model to a CSA. With a CSA clients pay an amount up front for a guaranteed supply of veggies/fruit during growing season. While I love the convenience of weekly delivery, but I wasn’t such a fan of the limited variety – you get what’s available and sometimes that meant lots of leafy greens and few heartier veggies.

So while I like it better, this model isn’t for me either.

I decided to try offering delivery to my clients, and for me it works beautifully. Most eggs are delivered on Sundays to folks at my church – I also deliver on Wednesday mornings, driving a loop around the city and completing things by noon (at least for now!). My sole cost is fuel – and I make more than enough on Wednesdays to cover that and still make a profit. Since I’m attending church on Sundays anyway, those deliveries are purely profit.

I truly enjoy talking with my clients. I learn what they like, what they don’t, what they are interested in trying, and more. I’ve introduced numerous people to duck eggs, expanded palates by offering goat milk samples, and enticed young children to try a veggie they think they don’t like (fresh, non-refrigerated produce is always better!).

I am blessed to have minimal living costs, so I do all in my power to pass those savings on to others. Sure, I work hard and many people are shocked to hear my prices – but in the back of my mind I’m always thinking of my clients. I want young families, single people, folks that live on tight budgets – anyone – to have access to affordable, high quality food. I believe good physical health is important and strive to do my part.

So that’s why I deliver – many thanks to my clients for their support.

Barn Expansion

With two pregnant goats my last few weeks have been focused on the barn expansion project – I need a birthing/nursery space for the itty bitty babies! Any leftover time been devoted to fieldwork and chicken keeping, so keeping this space up to date has been sorely neglected. Padme’s babies arrive any day now (my estimate is July 10 – squee!) and I’ll have all sorts of exciting stories to tell, I’m sure.

Anyway – barn expansion.

First up was extending the run to enclose the far side of the barn. This meant setting more posts – I discovered Quikrete comes in post-setting size bags so it was a faster job that before. I used salvaged chicken wire and fencing to wrap the boards, fastening with cable ties. I’ve set so much fence over the last few months that this seemed to come together quickly. We purchased a second water tank and I set up a gate to keep the other goats out.

I quickly found the gate was a terrible idea – the other goats clambered all over it, bending the latch and busting one of the hinges. Padme even broke a hole in the hogwire fencing so she could rejoin her friends! We want the option to separate two groups of goats, in case we opt to keep any birthed boys, so I came up with another solution to keep mamas and babies secure.

Pallets are a wonderful material for fence building. They are sturdy and strong, easy to secure to one another, and if the boards are set close you don’t need to add wire to keep goats secure (poultry would require wire).

I set two small pallets on end, securing them to one another with cable ties. I installed a 1×4 along the top for added strength. I also added a 10′ x 5′ cattle panel atop the pallets – goats are wily creatures and Padme is more than typical. Her pregnant body is incredibly wide but she still manages to squeeze through small spaces.

That said…she managed to squeeze out of this ‘secure’ area and rejoined the other three goats yesterday! The upside is she is finding the weak spots before her babies arrive so I can get them patched.

I believe she worked her way out between a post and the metal exterior sheathing. I blocked the hole with some scrap wood, and also added a couple boards to one of the pallets for extra strength.

Here’s a shot of the interior of the barn for the expecting mamas. Unlike the other side the entire wall was open, so I used a couple small pallets to create an exterior wall. I recently added a 6′ piece of cattle panel to the top of pallet for added security.

The interior wall was in rough shape, so I pulled off the old boards and rebuilt the wall. I needed a gate so goats can be easily moved from one side to the other; this also simplifies feeding, watering, and cleaning the space. I set the horizontal boards fairly close together – I want to see the animals but minimize escape possibilities. Padme can’t fit through, and it’s high enough that I’m not overly concerned about the babies (that will likely change when they arrive though!)

I needed a post so I could hinge the gate, so I fastened a 2’x4′ to the top stud. I’d already put a pallet on the floor to block the opening under the barn floor, and the slat was just wide enough that the 2’x4 fit between the space. Secured!

Finally, I needed a gate to allow entry/exit up the walk to the chicken coops. I installed some posts so I can add a covered walkway – handy in inclement weather. I love the view of the new chicken garden, and I like to think the animals will enjoy talking to one another.

The summer heat meant this project took a lot longer than I wanted – it’s the shaded side of the barn but I still needed to work early morning and evening to minimize chances of heat stroke. Babies will be here soon!