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Winter on the Farm

Winter on the Farm

peaceful heart farm - winter on the farm

Winter on the farm lately has been very wet. The building site is really, really muddy. And it’s not just any mud. It’s this sticky stuff that clots up on your boots. Literally, there is an inch of mud that is loose on the surface. When you walk across it, you build up a large mass of red gooey stuff on your boots. Behind you is a clear path of prints where the crust of mud has been completely removed. It’s incredibly hard to get this stuff off of your boots. At least we have lots of blocks to use for scraping posts.

A few days ago, it rained so much that the big pond was filled deep enough to cover 3/4 of the overflow pipe. It’s back down now, but we have had over 5 inches of rain recently. I love that we get so much . . . and I’m happy the sun is shining today.

Creamery Update

As I mentioned above, the weather has been wet. Working outside has been impossible for a couple of weeks. Instead, Scott has been working overtime on the plans for the creamery. Plumbing is the topic he is focused on. He has spent hours watching YouTube videos and is currently drawing up the plans. Architectural drawing is one of Scott’s strong suits. Working with his hands on detailed images is a true talent he possesses in spades. A quick trip to town brought home some new tools to make the drawing tasks go much more smoothly.

He also has quite a few of the plumbing fixtures purchased. They are full-scale models as he works through the details of what goes where, which pipe line crosses above another, how deep of a trench to get the proper drop so everything flows out and many other details I know nothing about.

As soon as the weather clears and the ground dries up some, Scott will be back out there finishing the footers then digging trenches for the plumbing.

Animal Husbandry

We are still waiting for the lambs to be born. Ewes are so much wider than tall at this time. Every morning the first thing I do is open the blinds and count the sheep. We still have seven.

Five of them are still very wide. Two are too young to be pregnant as they were kept apart from the rest to ensure that did not happen. I think we were at least successful with that action. The five wide ones participated in unauthorized breeding which is why we are monitoring the flock closely this early in the year. Normally, lambing season begins the first of April. The grass is starting to take off and it is much warmer by that time. The lambs will thrive in that environment.

Last year we had quite a bit of difficulty with our sheep flock. We have one aging ewe who had triplets so large we had to assist. And another had triplets but was temporarily paralyzed during labor. Again, we had to assist. It was as very bad year for lambs. So I am watching them all very closely.

Still waiting . . . . .

Wood Stove

January was a really cold month. Scott has been busily gathering wood, chopping and splitting, loading crates of wood and hauling them inside. My part revolved around learning some really good tricks for maintaining a comfortable level of heat. At first, there were lots of really hot nights followed by the main furnace running for long periods of time as the fired died and it got cold inside. As Scott collected a greater variety of wood and I gained greater experience with using it, the temperature has become more consistent.

We used lots of wood but not lots of electrical energy.  The wood stove is paying for itself. Love my stove.

Look for wood stove cooking recipes and tips in the very near future. I’m also doing some research on cooking on a hearth fire. This kind of hand made touch with traditional cooking methods are fascinating to me. The closer we are to the natural origin of the food, the closer we are to the nutrition and goodness.

Winter is a difficult time for me emotionally. Traditionally, around this time of year I get emotional at the drop of a hat. I’m looking forward to my birthday and the beginning of spring. That usually alleviates the emotional instability and things start roaring forward at break-neck speed. Life becomes more like a roller coaster. I’m also shopping for new vegetable seeds and looking forward to getting the garden going. Cravings for fresh greens start to build up and get stronger and stronger as the season gets ready to take off.

Thanks for following us. May you always have water and shade.

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Animal Husbandry and Farm Exercise

Animal Husbandry and Farm Exercise

In this post I want to give an update on our animal husbandry tasks and expound on how much exercise is a daily part of farm life. Over the past couple of weeks we have trimmed hooves on most of our small goat herd and sheep flock plus the donkeys. We are still waiting on the anticipated birth of a new mini-donkey. And we made a trip to Meadowcreek Dairy in Galax, Virginia to check out their operation.

Farm Exercise

Let’s start with exercise. One of the main reasons we have for starting our farm business is to do creative things and keep fit into our twilight years. Many people retire then get almost no exercise. Others have the freedom in retirement to spend lots of time at the gym. By far, the ones frequenting the gym live longer with more productive and active lives. But the gym has no appeal for us. We like the outdoors and love nature. Just watching nature do its thing is a joy for us. Getting our daily exercise is completely integrated into our lifestyle. There is no need to cut out a part of our day to go somewhere else.

I know a lot of you may have a goal of walking 10,000 steps per day. That’s a lot of steps and likely difficult to manage in a normal day without just going to the gym and walking on the treadmill. I could never manage it. Boring!  😯  Here’s how the day goes for me. Just this morning my tasks included feeding the bottle lamb, milking the cows and moving the main herds to another field. I walked nearly 5,000 steps. Yes, that’s right. Just the morning chores got me halfway to the goal. And it was a joy!

Our farm is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. No matter where you go, it really is uphill both ways. Yes, yes, there is some downhill in between. But still, those hills are the bomb for getting that heart rate up. The birds are singing. Often a light breeze is blowing. This morning was cooler than previous mornings so that was good too. Life is good.

There are days when the heat is oppressive. I sweat a lot. In addition to other benefits, sweating is really, really good for my skin. The milking and other chores get done in the morning no matter the temperature. But in the afternoon I can work inside on stuff like this blog, the finances or some other marketing task until later in the afternoon when it begins to cool down. That’s when I will go out into the garden, pull a few weeds and generally enjoying the fruits of our labor. Scott rarely does that. Usually, he is out there sweating continually doing some task or another.

And that brings me to the next topic.

Goat the Sheep Hoof Trimming

A big part of animal husbandry on our farm is keeping those hooves in good shape. Donkeys, sheep and goats all need that treatment. Last week a task popped up on my calendar that it was time to check the goats and sheep for general health and trim their hooves. We still need to get to the boys later this week. Two rams and 8 bucks. The girls and their young were done a few days ago.

We currently have 15 goat and 9 sheep in the main ‘girls’ herd/flock. Starting at around noon on a hot summer day, we began the task. Scott manhandled each animal and I wielded the hoof pruners. Scott catches them and then turns them upside down into a “chair” that is specifically made for this purpose. Once a goat or sheep is on their back kind of sitting with feet up, they stop resisting. They don’t resist as much anyway. They can, and the young goats do, make lots of noise but they can’t really get out of the “chair” until Scott turns them right side up again, out of the chair.

We finished at 6:00 pm. There is nothing for it but to work straight through with only short breaks to drink some water or Gatorade. Yes, six hours straight to get done. The task entails digging out manure from the hooves prior to trimming the excess material. I smelled that long into the night. Should have used the neti pot on my nasal passages during my shower. Well, live and learn.

Donkey Pregnancy

We are still anxiously awaiting the arrival of Sweet Pea’s offspring. No ultrasound to tell us whether boy or girl. We will be surprised and accept whatever creation brings to us. Young animals being born are always eagerly anticipated on our farm.

This will be Sweet Pea’s last foal. Daisy and Cocoa will also continue their lives without additional foals. We made the decision to keep this small herd of donkeys and no more. Our land can support a limited number of animals and each needs to have a purpose supporting the whole. The purpose of the donkeys is protection for the lambs. They have been doing a really great job and we expect that to continue. Daisy is about 10 years old now and Sweet Pea is 7. We expected to have them as our companions for years to come. Donkeys live a long time. They will both likely be with us for another 30 to 35 years.❤ ❤ ❤

Visiting Other Farms

The last thing I want to mention is our trip to Meadowcreek Dairy. They are a little less than an hour’s drive from us. The business operates near Galax, Virginia in Grayson county. They have a new piece of farm land that buts up against the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was gorgeous up there. They make cheese at an elevation of 2800+ feet.

As we get ready to lay the foundation for our creamery, visiting other farms has been part of our preparation. Scott wanted to see how others set up their barns. How does the animal flow work? What kind of equipment do they use? What are the advantages and disadvantages that each farmer found with their choices? We have visited about a half dozen farms and each one is different in how they set up their milking operation.

The great people at Meadowcreek Dairy spent more than a 1/2 day with us, showing us the cheese make room through a window and two different milking parlor setups. They have traveled to Europe and New Zealand, performing a similar action to ours on a world wide scale. They wanted to see how milking and cheese making is done in those areas of the world. Their milking parlor reflects those cultures.

There are two sides to the cow milking parlor. Rather than running the milkers on both sides at the same time, they do one side and then the other. With two people that allows one person to be prepping the cows on one side for milking while the other person is actually setting up and monitoring the “claws” on the other side. Then those cows are let out, then next group of cows comes in and the farmers switch sides while walking along the pit. The one setting up and monitoring the milking machine moves to the freshly prepped cows, while the one prepping moves over to prep the new set of cows that just entered the parlor. Or they can simply work in tandem. Lots of choices.

The barns are open and tall, with lots of air flowing through. This was the part that I really liked. Closed milking barns can be very, very hot in the summer. Also, the cows are much happier if they don’t have to go into a hot, dark place. They are much more willing to just walk into the open-air space, stand while being milking, and then parade back out into the field to continue their daily joy of eating lots of grass.

The folks at Meadowcreek were very generous with their time and information. We look forward to the time when we can do the same for the next small farmer looking to create a hand-made, farmstead or artisan cheese operation.

That’s it for now. Long days and pleasant nights.

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Picking Blackberries

Picking Blackberries

BEFORE clearing rows, wild berry forest,

There is nothing more satisfying than harvesting your own food, especially when it comes to picking blackberries. Or blueberries for that matter. Or tomatoes and potatoes. Anyway, this evening it was picking blackberries. I have about three gallons in the kitchen sink right now. I will wash and store them in a bit.

AFTER clearing rows, from ‘travel lane’

We didn’t get many blueberries, even though there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of berries on the bushes. The local raccoons are getting pretty fat because we are feeding them. Keeping the local varmints out of the berries is a project for next year. This year we are just glad to have been able to dig the bushes out from a couple years neglect. They were riddled with wild blackberries and every other kind of weed imaginable, plus young trees.

We have had a very busy couple of weeks. Yesterday we made cheese. Havarti was the chosen delight for this week. The day before we drove 5 hours to borrow a young Normande bull that we had sold last year. Then drove 5 hours back. Tomorrow’s project is trimming donkey hooves along with milking and such. The following day will see the goats and sheep get inspected and their hooves trimmed as needed.

Visiting Other Farms

Let me take these events one-by-one and fill in some details. I left out one big event and I will start with that one. Two days ago we visited a local farmer and checked out his operation. We wanted to take a look at his milking parlor. He also had a cheese making setup we wanted to see. He made a very different kind of cheese. He used a combination cheese vat and pasteurizer. He was making fresh cheese, therefore the milk had to be pasteurized before processing. Pasteurizing ruins the flavor but there is no getting around the government regulations about fresh cheese.

He also had several other ideas in the works on his farm. He has 50 white ducks and is now selling duck eggs. He also had some meat goats.  We had a nice chat about that business. It is fun to go out and visit others in the area to learn the ‘what and how’ they are doing. Everyone has a different vision and creative ways of using their land.

So that was two days ago. The next day we took that long trip to pick up the bull. We want to use artificial insemination at some point soon, but we just have too many other things going on right now. To learn one more thing would be just too much at this time. That dairy farmer was very practiced at AI so could serve as a tutor on this at a later time. So Scott came up with the brilliant idea to use the young bull that we sold last year. After a few Facebook messages were exchanged, we set up the details to borrow him. As long as we pick him up and drive him back, we were good for go for a 2 1/2 months breeding period. We expect him to be able to take care of all that needs doing in that amount of time.

It was as very long day. It actually took us about 6 1/2 hours to get there due to an unplanned excursion northward instead of due east. But we got back on track and made the return trip with no issues. We also were able to visit that other farm and check out their various operations. As I said, it’s great fun for us. This farm has some really great Jersey cows. They also have ducks, chickens, peacocks, alpacas, pigs and sheep and probably something else I’m leaving out (oh yeah, friendly dogs and kids). They are very diversified. We will have much the same at some point in the very near future by adding chickens and pigs (maybe ducks also). At least I hope so.  😛

Making Cheese

Yesterday was cheese making day. We made Havarti from 18 gallons of our cows’ milk. It was Scott’s first time with this cheese in over a year.  He did a fabulous job. You know when you first start making cheese it can be a very daunting task. There is just so much to know. But after you get the basics down, trying out a ‘new’ cheese is simply a variation of the skills you’ve already built plus following the recipe that is in front of you. We expect that in 3 months or so we are going to have some really good cheese from this batch.

Our two cheese refrigerators are filling up fast. Check out our store here to contribute to the creamery. You can get a cheese sample.

Animal Husbandry

Tomorrow is donkey hoof trimming day. Every four months a task pops up on my calendar to take care of their feet. We have four donkeys. Each one is a little different in their response to this treatment. Daisy and Sweet Pea are the easiest to work with, though it was not always that way (nervous). Johnny Rebel, the jack, usually fights the process, but we always win. And the littlest girl, Cocoa, is a handful. She is the youngest and most skittish when it comes to human contact. The others love the touching, talking and brushing:  Cocoa sees this happening right next to her yet is not convinced that we should be touching her at all.


Then come the hoof trimming for the goats and sheep day after tomorrow. They also need to have their hooves trimmed and we will also check for signs of anemia, worms or other issues.

These are long days that require a lot of strength and patience from Scott. He is literally required to manhandle the goats and sheep. The goats don’t weigh as much as the sheep, but there are more of them.

That is just covering 5 days of activities. I love each day here.

There is always something that needs doing. Even if it if just making ice cream. I have strawberries, peaches and blackberries in the frig.

Yum, yum.

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Farm Animals Update

Farm Animals Update

We are responsible for quite a few farm animals – cows, sheep, goats and donkeys. Sometimes they require lots of extra assistance and attention especially around birthing time. We provide protection and care to the best of our ability. Sometimes farm life is stressful.

farm animals 1Punky, the orphaned bottle lamb, is slowly getting stronger and stronger. I did break down yesterday and bring her inside right before a really, really bad storm. I know, I know, she has to eventually learn to be out in the weather, but I just wanted to make sure she stayed strong. We had a good time holding her while watching a movie during the downpour. After the movie, she returned to the outdoor world for the night. She still follows me around right at my heels as if I was her mom when we go for walks. But she is getting better at being a sheep and hanging with the flock.

Punky has come a long, long way. We thought we would lose her when she was only a few days old. Now she is nearly a month old and still hanging in there. Sometimes it takes a lot of extra effort to make sure they are healthy. But it is worth it in the long run. It is always hard to lose even one. And we lost Punky’s two siblings as well as another complete set of triplets. We are happy to have intervened in her time line and have succeeded.

farm animalsThen there was this little guy, a goat kid. They only weigh about 4 pounds at birth. At two days old he got really weak, too weak to hold up his head. We brought him inside for a bit to warm him up. Soon we gathered up his Mom as we realized he would need help for days.  She is better at feeding him than we are.

Scott’s dad (named Jack) wanted to call him ‘Jack’ but we decided that would be too confusing. Scott decided on ‘Billy Jack’ since it is a ‘billy goat’. Dad got to hold him while visiting and gave him lots of love; you can see a picture of this on the farm’s Facebook page. At night he stayed with his mom right outside the front door in a covered pen.  That went on for about a week as we treated him. It was a challenge, but we knew he would do better with his Mom close by.

We dosed him with some of my herbal concoctions. We also supplemented his diet with selenium-laced goat feed. He is now bounding around in the field with the whole goat herd good as new and growing fast.

farm animalsAnother lamb, Cupcake, went sort of lame a day or so after we picked up Billy Jack. He didn’t seem to be too bad off so we left him in the field with his Mom. We dosed him with some garlic just to be sure and kept a close watch on him. The biggest problem for him was to keep up with his mom with a painful back leg. That’s important – keeping up with your Mom. They need lots of nourishment in their early days. They are born with seemingly just some skin over some bones. It is important for them to put on weight very quickly and stay warm.

He’s still out in the field with Mom and she is very attentive. And while he is still a little slow, he seems to be keeping up with her and the rest of the flock. His limp has greatly improved. He will do well, I think.

Now we are very closely watching Claire, our matriarch milk cow. We milk her and her sister every day.  Claire appears to have mildly injured her left ankle or foot, probably slipped in the mud. Sighhhh. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Yet Claire’s limping walk is improving. Taking care of our farm animals is rewarding even if busy and worrisome at times like these.

Well, that’s it for now. Gotta go give Punky another bottle of milk.  She is staying with two ‘big girls’ to reintegrate into her sheep’s life.




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Old Tree Piles

Tree piles – large piles where you cannot burn them yet are in the way now.  I had been waiting for over a year to get to this little farm chore – clearing piles of old large trees. I cannot burn them where they are & they are definitely in the road or in the ‘lane’ I should say.

Old trees crowding the lane
Old trees are crowding the Travel Lane now.
used to be a good place to dump old trees
This used to be a good place to dump old trees.

The ‘Travel Lane’ is the sheep-way or herd-pathway where we walk animals from paddock to paddock. It really is a good management tool – we make a fenced 10-20’ wide pathway between / through the pastures / woods.  Well, the lane had a long gap in its fence barrier along the creek bed, 250′ of a gap.  The tree piles are right at this gap and in the way of putting up the barrier fence. The tree piles kinda’ made a barrier but animals were not fooled for long. If they can find a way to go somewhere, they will!  They can walk around or over many things.

This need to put up a fence is all about making it easier for us to handle our boys-n-girls peacefully.  No aggravation or injuries for daily chores, thank you very much.  How do you move the milk cows twice daily for milking them?  – Answer – follow the travel lane between field & barn.  Herding animals is a common need on a farm.  From my observation, “Herding Livestock” can be like snack times in the kindergarten except the kids are way bigger.  And they have a serious pecking order attitude, brambles, rocks, flies, poop & grass to nibble.  This herding can quickly NOT be smooth & straightforward BUT it can be easy if setup properly.  Bringing in the flock or herd can be enjoyable.

Travel Lane passing between orchard & paddock
Travel Lane passing between orchard & paddock
The Sheep-way is for easy movement of the flock / herd.
The Sheep-way is for movement of the flock & herd.

So, this travel lane gap has to be closed. For a couple weeks, the girl cows have been ignoring my rotational grazing plan: They should know better!  And I truly think they do know the routines yet are like willful children getting away with what they can.  They are just being themselves, not actually trying to cause trouble.  So into the gap or breach they go:  The donkeys, sheep & cows walk around / through the tree piles then simply scramble down-n-up  the steep ravine banks crossing the creek and like-magic escape into somewhere special  – in this case the beautiful, shaded creek bed with many green delights.  They actually don’t go that far; they are just not where you want them to be.  To round them up, it takes a lot of time & sweat:  You can picture me jogging back-n-forth, panting, waving my arms, clapping my hands as they shift and dodge around me.  They are perfectly happy eating that fresh greenery, merely being.  Did you know they love being first to get to it and race to get there!

Wished I had a better use for them..
Wished I had a better use for them..
Cut & carried to roll them roll them into the creek ravine
Cut & carried & rolled them into the ravine.

All together there were over 100 whole tree trunks (6-20” diameter, 15-40’ long), collected over 8 years. I had drug & stacked them at the bottom of the garden field next to the creek ravine – it was out of the way back then!  It is right in the way now.  The chainsaw, log chain & tractor front end bucket helped make these piles over the years. Various farm needs and bad weather required clearing trees (I try to not cut trees down, actually hate having to do it – I really love trees).  Yet, there they are nicely stacked laying parallel at 4-5′ high & 10-20′ wide in 5 piles all along the gap.  These wet, half rotten trees do NOT move as a ‘pile’ because of my little tractor.

It took two weekends, lots of sweat/beer/water/ ibuprofen & my trustee chainsaw.  Most of this tree mass had to be removed by hand.  I cut them into 3′ pieces and carried / tossed / rolled 3/4 of these piles into the ravine and creek.  Only after cutting them into little pieces and digging down to the bottom of the piles could I shave off a cluster of pieces with the front end bucket to push them over the edge. Yeah, the tractor helped push them into the creek bed / ravine late yesterday afternoon but only at that point. Only that last hour could I use the tractor.  I finally cleared those large piles of old trees from the travel lane.  Happily I did find a few locust trees – cut / hauled them off to use for fence posts later.


I was glad to work in the shade!
I was glad to work in the shade!
This will work better.
This will work better.

Then I put up the fence – Almost finished that part before dark.