Starting a Homestead

People are often surprised to hear our story of starting a homestead. It was a rather lengthy journey compared to what you might imagine. It was a lengthy journey compared to what WE imagined. And it still continues to this day. In fact, the building is going to continue for years. I begin to wonder if it ever ends and we just maintain what we have already built. I don’t know. That day hasn’t arrived yet.

I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week. And I want to share our journey through starting a homestead. Let’s get started.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Orchard

I just picked blueberries this morning. It looks like this is going to be the last decent sized haul for this season. The crows have discovered the blueberry bushes so we are sharing with them now. Yet another batch of blueberry jam will be made tomorrow. This will be the last one, I think.

On the way back I took a stroll around the fruit trees just to see what we have. We are going to have a few peaches this year. There are a few apples but I didn’t see any pears, plums or apricots. And the cheery trees? Well they are a disaster. Scott will be starting all over with them this fall. He’s learned a few things and I think this time he will be successful with the cherry trees. But that also means another couple of years or more before we have cherries. Patience is a virtue.

Garden

I’m nearly done with the garden. I have two more beds to complete. My plan is to have that completed tomorrow. I’ve decided to add another bed of green beans. I have the space so I’m going for it. The current green bean plants are blooming. We will have fresh green beans in no time.

The entire garden is just zooming along. The potatoes are blooming. That indicates we are coming close to the end of their life cycle. Digging potatoes is in our very near future.

The sunflowers are huge. Some are four or five feet tall now. There are a couple lagging behind. They are only a foot tall. Will they catch up? Not likely. They just may end up shorter than the rest. I’m so excited watching these plants grow. They are amazing.

The peppers are taking off. The plants I mean. When I first planted them, they just seemed to stay the same size. Now they are filling out and growing taller. Some of the hot peppers will get more than two feet tall. But most will be 14 to 18 inches tall and bushier.

The tomatoes seem to be struggling a bit. Any day now I expect them to take off just like the peppers. Some have a few blooms but I would really like to see them grow taller and fill out more. I think I’m just comparing them to the beans which are huge.

Quail

The quail babies have made it out to the penthouse. I can’t believe how quickly those little guys get all of their feathers. They are just a little over two weeks old and fully feathered. When I went out to check on them this morning, they were peeking at me over the edge of the frame. So cute.

We replaced the entire group of laying hens. Well, except for the white one. I kept her just because I like to have variety. There are two white ones in the new batch in the penthouse. The only problem is I have no idea how to determine if they are male or female. The brown ones are easy. The hens have spots on the breast. The roosters do not. The way I determined the current white one was a hen was simply by putting her in the cage and counting the number of eggs each day. If there are four hens in the there and I get four eggs, that solves it. I did in fact get four eggs. Well there is another way. I can observe who is jumping on who as well. That’s also a dead giveaway.

The Calves Escaped

Yesterday Scott spent most of the day fixing the fence down by the big pond. Wendell has gotten out twice by rounding that corner. But a couple of days ago, Luna joined in the fray.

Upon returning from a trip to town, Scott noticed she was out and returned her to her proper place. Later in the day I got two phone calls from neighbors within minutes of each other. The calves were out again.

This time it was Wendell and Virginia. They got all the way up to the road and even across the road in Virginia’s case. We don’t have a lot of traffic but still it’s dangerous.

So, they ended up locked into the lower garden – which isn’t really a garden. It’s just grass at the moment. They were locked in there until Scott finished fixing the fence yesterday. Now all is back to normal. The deer seemed to be a bit confused at the new fencing arrangement. She did jump over it – eventually.

Starting a Homestead

I thought today I would share our story of starting a homestead with all of you. It is likely that many of you dream of having your own homestead at some point. Maybe some of you are already on the path and can relate to what I’m about to divulge. As I mentioned above, the journey seems to never end. We started out thinking we are going to build this static thing and live happily ever after. But the reality is that the building and rearranging, adjustments and redirection seem to be part of the lifestyle.

Our dream began over 20 years ago.

The Beginning . . .

Scott and I met in 1999 in western North Carolina. Two people following similar paths meet and become life-long friends. We apprenticed together at a spiritual training center learning how to teach a meditation technique. This is where we reconnected to our hearts and desire to be close to the land.

During our training we dreamed of a sustainable farm homestead and communal living. We wanted to raise good food as close to nature’s intended way as possible. Experiencing loving relationships with others and soaking up nourishing nature helped us remember our kinship with creation. Two souls had found each other.

Three years passed before we made the first step toward our dream of starting a homestead.

Buying Land Was the First Step

In the summer of 2003, we bought our first piece of land in southwest Virginia. It was 20 acres of raw land with no buildings. We rented a mobile home nearby. A little over half of the property was grazable land. The other half was wooded.

At this point in our lives we had a great deal of debt: credit cards, school loans, taxes, and now a mortgage. We set out to pay everything off in full. We would have our homestead — but we were determined to have it debt-free.

We both took on lucrative jobs in Information Technology just as the electronic medical records industry kicked off. Our jobs required extensive travel. We became frequent flyers and traveled all over the US and to a few European countries as well. Every other week we flew home to Virginia to visit our beautiful piece of land. Hours and hours went into dreaming about what we were going to do with it. It made the travel easier knowing we were building a dream.

In 2005, we bought our own mobile home and moved it onto our land. And in the fall, we held our wedding ceremony on the homestead. It was so beautiful. Even though it was November the weather had permitted the leaves to change very slowly. And with very little wind this particular fall, there were many leaves still on the trees. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect time.

Learning to Produce Food

Our first experience with livestock was raising chickens in the summer of 2006.

The original contract with our employer was done. I moved on to a different contract and continued traveling. Scott was done with traveling. He remained on the homestead and built a couple of chicken tractors ala Joel Salatin. He raised, and we processed, around 100 chickens. We ate a lot of them ourselves and gave a lot away to relatives and neighbors. This part of the journey was just a taste to get our feet wet.

Twists and Turns and . . . Texas?

Somewhere along that time period we paid all of our debts in full. Now we needed money for infrastructure.

February 2007 Scott went back to work . . .  in Texas.

I was now traveling to various places around the country every week instead of every other week. I lived in hotels and airports. What a far cry from the peaceful life we envisioned. We persevered.

In 2008 we bought an additional 40 acres adjoining our property. We were in debt again. This time for more money than ever before. It’s a good thing that I got to walk around that property occasionally or I might have forgotten exactly why we did that. The “why” had to do with dreaming bigger. Now we were learning about raising sheep. Still very much a dream at this point . . . we’re still living in Texas.

The constant travel and living out of a suitcase got really old, really fast for me. It was fine when I was traveling with my best friend and awesome life partner. Doing it alone was torture. Within a year I was insisting that Scott get a job closer to home. If I was going to fly home every weekend, I wanted it to be Virginia — not Texas.

South Carolina is Closer Than Texas

From the fall of 2008 until December 31, 2016 Scott traveled 6 hours every Sunday evening to Beaufort, South Carolina. A guy by himself doesn’t need much and a travel trailer we purchased for the task was sufficient housing. Every Friday evening he returned to the homestead in Virginia, six hours again. He did it alone for the first year and a half. Six months later, I got a job offer . . . just outside of Savannah, Georgia.

We moved the travel trailer to a park halfway between Savannah and Beaufort. It was an hour drive for me and 45 minutes for him.

Then in 2010 I got a job offer at the same hospital where Scott had been working for over two years. I jumped on that like a duck on a June bug. All of this unconventional living circumstance was worth the huge amount of stress that came with it. After all, we were now back together as a couple. That was great. We were at the homestead every single weekend. That was great. And it was only going to be for a couple of years . . .

Five years later I was stressed beyond my capacity to remain sane. I really needed a nest. For the final two years of working in Beaufort, we rented an apartment. Moving from 100 square feet to over 1,000 square feet of living space was just enough happiness to get me through it. In the end, even that wasn’t enough. In the fall of 2016, we decided to make the leap to full-time homesteaders. Getting the creamery built became the focus of our lives. And indeed, still is today.

From Chicken Tractors to Raw Milk Artisan Cheese

Let me back up a little bit and fill in some details of how we grew the farm during this period of time. How did we go from pasture raised chickens to artisan cheese? What the heck happened there? Well, we tried a few different things over the years.

The weekend life allowed us to dabble a bit in a lot of areas. Early on we were clear that raising chickens was not where our hearts were happy. Having them for eggs and meat for personal use, yes. But not as our central farm enterprise. In 2009 we put in fruit trees. That’s a long-term project that will continue to stretch over many years.

Sheep

In 2010 we bought a flock of sheep and a donkey as a guardian animal for them. We proceeded along the lines of raising sheep and selling lamb as our centerpiece. We learned a lot over several years. At one point we had over 70 sheep. But an issue arose and in 2011 something big changed on the homestead. Love crept in, awakened and rapidly altered the homestead dream.

Cows

In 2011 we bought cows. I wanted to make my own butter and cheese and I loved drinking raw milk. Still can’t stand the taste of cooked milk. With working toward homestead sustainability as part of our mission, we also wanted beef (and pork and chicken and rabbit). After researching every cow breed under the sun, we settled on the Normande. It’s a dual breed cow. A prolific milk producer as well as producing well-marbled muscle perfectly suited for beef. For more details on these cows, give a listen to the Peaceful Heart FarmCast episode I dedicated to them.

Suffice it to say, I fell in love with these cows. The issue I mentioned earlier was that lamb was not going to produce the income we desired – not without adding a lot more pasture. Another alternative arose in our dream talks. We could build a creamery and make artisan and/or farmstead cheese. It just happened to coincide with my desire to have more of these beautiful cows in my life.

To pay for it, how much longer are we going to have to work for someone else? Yes, that’s the decision that drove the planned two years of living in a travel trailer to a full seven years of craziness.

Peaceful Heart Farm Creamery is Born

Finally, I’ve gotten to the part of the story where the creamery comes in. It has been a wild and varied journey getting here. But this is the one. Since December 2016, we have been investing all of our time and energy into becoming a local cheese resource for our community. We use traditional cheese making techniques to create our cheeses. We are going to produce the best cheddar cheese that Virginia has ever seen! With a slight tweak on the salt, I’m expecting my alpine-style cheese to be a winner as well.

The creamery still has a way to go before passing state inspection. But we are so close now compared to where we started. And so many adventures along the way. With lots more still to come.

What Else?

At some point we added cashmere goats to our livestock. I’m a big knitter and dreamed of using only 100% cashmere in my projects. However, you can only do so much! For now, they keep our pastures clear of brambles and provide us some really great nutrition. In the future, meat goats will continue the pasture maintenance task.  

The only food we don’t produce in abundance at the moment is eggs (and coffee). That situation was modified when we added the quail.

Future plans include having chickens and pigs. They are natural additions when you have a creamery. We produce a lot of whey that is very high in protein. Both the chickens and the pigs will benefit from that nutritious treat.

You see what I mean? About the building part going on and on forever. Who knows what we will build after the pigs and chickens?

Final Thoughts

We spend hours and hours working, sweating and loving every minute of our life and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Starting a homestead was the best thing we ever did with our life. If you’ve been waiting on the perfect time to start a homestead, I hope I’ve inspired you to begin your own journey ASAP. It doesn’t have to be a giant leap into the unknown. It can be a giant adventure every step of the way.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please hop over to Apple Podcasts, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review. Also, please share it with any friends or family who might be interested in this type of content.

Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.

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Farm News, Herd Share Pickups: 6/16/2020

Hello beautiful peeps,

Farm news has good news and bad news. Quail losses and calf birth. We will have limited quantities of BLUEBERRY JAM at Wytheville Farmer’s Market on Saturday.   

If you are looking for Herd Share pick up info, jump down the page here

Quail

The quail babies are doing great. We have 50 warmly housed in various brooders. The brooders keep them warm and safe until they grow their permanent feathers. That takes about two weeks.

The bad news is that a predator snagged four of our breeder quail over two days. We moved the surviving breeders in with the grower group on the penthouse level. Scott had to work on the quail hutch yet again. I believe all is well now. We shall see. Once we repopulate the breeder cages, we shall see.  

Cows

I know the vest said that Buttercup had three more months before giving birth. Buy hey, everybody makes mistakes. It has been only two weeks and we now have yet another beautiful heifer calf. Virginia is gorgeous and the picture of health.

Creamery

The small cheese cave is humming along beautifully. Today I waxed two more wheel of Peaceful Heart Gold. In a couple of months that cheese will be available. The humidifier is working great. The hydrometer with a wireless remote app is not working. I haven’t had time to trouble shoot that yet. Too much going on. Such is life on the homestead. 

Garden

We put supports up for the tomatoes and they look great. I wish you could see the sunflowers. Some of the are already over three feet high.

I picked a couple of sweet banana peppers. The cayenne peppers and jalapenos are coming on strong. The California Wonder bell peppers are going to take a bit longer. That’s a much larger pepper.   

That’s it for farm news. Now on to the farmer’s market update. 

Farmer’s Market

We will be at the Wytheville Farmer’s Market on Saturday 8 am to noon. The veggie vendors will be more numerous and outside on the covered side

We have BLUEBERRY JAM!! LIMITED Quantity!

We are out of ground lamb but have ribs chops and loin chops. Ground goat is also still available. We are out of beef. It will be August before we have more. We are sold out of beef 1/4s and 1/2s and lambs.   

Herd Shares

Herd Share Peeps, I will be inside near the exit door.  I look forward to seeing each of you. Remember to let me know what you want for next week. Fresh milk and yogurt is available. And as always, cheese and butter. 

New herd share opportunities are available. Contact me via email (melanie@peacefulheartfarm.com) or phone (276-694-4369). 

Please go HERE to learn all about Herd Shares and get on our waiting list.


News This Week


Products Available to Herd Share Owners

Choose 1 per week 1/2 Share Whole Share
Raw Milk 1/2 gallon 1 gallon
Yogurt 1 quart 2 quarts
Butter 1/4 pound 1/2 pound
Ararat Legend 1/4 pound 1/2 pound
Peaceful Heart Gold 1/4 pound 1/2 pound
Pinnacle 1/4 pound 1/2 pound
Clau d’ville Cheddar 1/4 pound 1/2 pound

Products Available to the General Public

Beef Price / Pound
1/4 Beef (approx 100 lbs) SOLD OUT
1/2 Beef (approx 200 lbs) SOLD OUT
Whole Beef (approx 400 lbs) SOLD OUT
Ground (approx 1 lb) SOLD OUT
Lamb Price / Pound
Lamb Loin Chops $18
Lamb Rib Chops $18
Lamb Kabobs SOLD OUT
Ground Lamb (approx 1 lb) SOLD OUT
Whole Lamb (approx 40 lbs) SOLD OUT
1/2 Lamb (approx 20 lbs) SOLD OUT
Chev (Goat) Price / Pound
Ground Chev (approx 1 lb) $12

Let’s Get Together

As always, we’d love to meet you in person.  You can find us at the Wytheville Farmers Market on Saturday from 8:00 am to Noon. Special procedures are in place for your health and safety, but come inside the building and see me.  

As always, you may visit us at our dairy farm in Claudville, Virginia Tuesdays from 10 am to 12 noon and Saturday afternoons from 3 pm to 5 pm. Find out how we raise our animals and why you will love the taste of tradition that is inherent in all of our products. Herd share holders will be able to see up close how their cows are cared for and the cheese operation and where it is stored. 


Peaceful Heart FarmCast

This week’s podcast, “Life and Death on the Homestead” has the good news and more details on the quail predator situation. Sometimes life is hard here on the homestead. We deal with life and death every day. Having said that, there is a lot more good news than bad this week. New birth and lots of growth. 


Free Downloads

I want to follow up on my previous FarmCast, The Taste of Cheese where I talked about developing your expertise with using descriptive words. The FREE downloads of Classifying Cheese by Type and Category and Expand Your Cheese Vocabulary are still available at our website. Please stop by and get your FREE resources. 

You can LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HEREOr, if you have an Alexa device, just say:Alexa, play podcast Peaceful Heart FarmCast.

And don’t miss an episode! Subscribe to the Peaceful Heart Farm podcast on Apple PodcastsAndroidTuneIn, Stitcher or Spotify


Life and Death on the Homestead

Life and death on the homestead. It is our joy and sorrow in daily life. Much to talk about here.

I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and to say welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. Thank you so much for making this podcast possible.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Should I start with the bad news or the good news? There was only the one area of difficulty and there is so much good news to share. Let’s get the bad news out of the way and then move on to all the wonderful happenings on our homestead.

Quail – Life and Death

I have good news and bad news regarding the quail. First the bad. We have a predator. In the past couple of days, we lost four birds. I won’t describe the details. Suffice it to say it was not pretty. We do our best to keep all of our animals safe. But sometimes predators are really, really persistent and innovative. We had a similar issue last fall. Just when you think you’ve taken care of the problem, a sly predator comes up with a new angle.

The quail hutch is two levels. On the top are two large cages for growing out the new chicks. Currently there are 16 on one side and 17 on the other for a total of 33. Actually, that is not right. There are more than that up there now. Before the predator there were 33 up there. Now the breeding stock has joined them. I believe there are 13 of them currently residing in the penthouse with the original 33.

The bottom level of the hutch had the breeding stock. There are three cages there and each had six birds. Two of the cages had four hens and two roosters and one had five hens and one rooster. Ideally, we would have five hens and one rooster in each of the cages on the bottom for a total of 18 birds. However, last year we ended up with not enough hens to fill out the desired scenario and two extra roosters. How did that happen you say? Let me fill you in on that part of the story

Last fall I learned my lesson about quail fertility. My last batch of 40 something eggs only produced eight chicks. I did know that the rooster’s fertility would diminish in the fall along with the number of eggs the hens produce. Once spring arrives, all returns to normal. That’s the normal cycle. In September the hens were still producing lots of eggs so I collected them all and put them into the incubator. Again, eight chicks out of 40 something eggs. The hens were laying eggs, just not fertile eggs.

After a couple of weeks in the brooder these eight chicks moved into one of the upper cages. We planned on keeping the hens to fill out the breeding stock and processing the roosters. There were only eight birds to begin with and the predator knocked that down to six. Four were hens and they filled out some of the breeding stock that we needed. But what to do with the two extra roosters. We decided not to bother with processing only two. They got added to the breeder cages so it was all one big happy family.

Back to the present time. One of our ladies just died for no apparent reason. That happens sometimes. And then, the very next day, the predator began striking. We lost one rooster that first day. The next day we lost three more birds. At that point, we needed to act quickly or lose even more of our breeding stock. Once a predator has found out how to attack, it will continue unless something is done.

The first step was to move all of the breeding stock to the upper level. We tied a piece of yarn on a leg of each of them so we can find them again. In a week’s time, both new and old will be moved to another location. We will restock the breeder cages and process the rest. Quail only live a couple of years anyway and the breeders are already into their second year.  We will restock the breeder cages with all new birds from this batch.

Protect the Quail

Scott spent most of yesterday fortifying that hutch – again. I believe we have the issue resolved but it was still sad to lose those beautiful birds. We don’t know what animal was getting to them. It climbed up on the outside and somehow had to be hanging upside down under the bottom of the lower level. It must have been hanging on with one paw and grabbing with the other. Anyway, Scott added another layer of hardware cloth to the bottom of the 2 X 4 frame. There is the floor of the cage and then another layer four inches below that. The perpetrator can no longer reach the bottom of their cage where they are standing.

Baby Quail

On the upside regarding the quail. Besides the 33 in the upper level, we have 50 chicks in brooders. They are about a week and a half old now and already about half complete with their feathers. All chicks are born with down and no feathers. That’s one reason they are in the brooder. We can keep a light on them so they stay warm. Once they are fully feathered – which is about two short weeks for quail – they will be able to handle the changing temperatures just fine. Anytime after that, they can be moved outside. It is amazing how fast these little guys grow.

Cows – No Life and Death – Just Life

More good news here. I mentioned in an earlier podcast that the vet estimated Buttercup was six months along in a nine-month gestation cycle. Well she was off by a long way. Maybe she thought the Normande calves would be larger. Anyway, Buttercup delivered a beautiful full-term heifer calf last Friday.

I named her Virginia. Scott named Wendell after one of the main characters in “The 10th Kingdom” so I picked Virginia as she is another main character in that TV mini-series. The show aired on NBC in 2000. There were five shows, each was two hours. I believe it is available on Netflix now. It is a fantasy fairytale miniseries. We have had it on DVD for many years and have watched it many times.

Buttercup’s Virginia is beautiful, healthy and a welcome addition to our herd of Normande cows.

This morning I had to rescue Luna. She had stuck her head through the fence and couldn’t get it back out. The slope of her head allowed her to push through, but the ridge on top is not sloped on the back side. Every time she turned her head to try and get past that ridge, her ear would get caught. It came down to getting out the wire cutters to get her free. I wonder if she learned her lesson. Some of the goats don’t. She appears to be fine but it gave me a scare for sure. She was really in distress.

Donkeys

The donkeys got their nails done this week. Donkey hooves need to be trimmed three to four times a year. This time, while Scott was doing the manicure, I added a nice touch to their experience. Daisy and Sweet Pea usually just stand there and take it, but Cocoa and especially Johnny really don’t like this hoof trimming business at all.

While Scott was working on Daisy, I was brushing out the winter coats on Sweet Pea and Cocoa. I had already gotten Daisy taken care of while Scott was gathering equipment and getting ready. Johnny is too shy and so didn’t get his brushing. The girls have deep winter coats and there is a lot of hair coming out. I brushed and brushed and brushed. I got all of the loose stuff. It is not all gone and probably won’t be for another month. Once it is completely shed, the fluffy look will be replaced with the sleek polished look.

Garden

In the garden we worked through the rain to get the tomatoes supported. They are growing nicely and I am looking forward to lots and lots of tomatoes in the near future. I will begin canning tomato sauce and barbecue sauce this fall. Gotta refill those shelves.

The sunflowers are amazing. Some of them are three feet tall already. I said I am growing these just for fun – and oh they are fun.

The green beans are blooming. I planted about 50 square feet of green beans. It was supposed to be 75 but I planted one bed with lima beans that I had lying around.

I picked a couple of sweet banana peppers and there are lots of cayenne and jalapenos coming along already. I didn’t see any blooms on the California Wonder bell pepper plants. Those plants may need to get larger before they can support those giant bell peppers. We will be inundated with peppers in the very near future. My plan for those is dehydrating most of them. I might even mix a few and grind them up into a homemade chili powder. What do you think?

I’m loving the woven ground cloth we put down. The garden looks pristine. Weeding takes only a short time and little effort. We shall see how this garden progresses. Will there be problems with disease and pests – more than normal, I mean. We shall see.

Orchard

After getting the tomatoes propped up, we moved on to picking blueberries and strawberries. Last week I made some awesome blueberry jam and I plan on making another batch tomorrow. It is so great to pick the fruits of our labor. And so tasty too!

There were cicadas in the blueberry bushes. Those guys are mostly done with their life cycle. The noise has finally stopped. Perhaps some small fraction of the females are still laying eggs. Now the Japanese beetles are arriving in force. But we have some great traps that will help keep them away from the fruit bushes, canes and trees. Our fruit is pest challenged every year. Mostly by the Japanese beetles.

I also ran across a hornet nest and two small wasp nests in the blueberry bushes. No stings though. Thank goodness! I don’t respond well to stings. EpiPen at the ready.

Creamery

The creamery has not progressed much this week as you can imagine. With the above activities, Scott has not been able to move forward as quickly as he would have likely. We’ve also had rain, rain and more rain over the past few days. If the rain lets up today, he will be back at it with gusto.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s podcast. A small bit of bad news and lots of good news. That’s how we like it. It’s an amazing experience. In the spring things change so fast. The trees are all leafed out. Just a few short weeks ago their branches were bare. The grass is growing like crazy. The animals definitely love that. And the garden has gone from a blank slate to greenery waving in the breeze.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please hop over to Apple Podcasts, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review. Also, please share it with any friends or family who might be interested in this type of content.

Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.

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Farm News, Herd Share Pickups, Farmer’s Market: 6/10/2020

Hello beautiful peeps,

Farm news is the blueberries are ripening. We don’t have the quantity for farmer’s market, but look for them this Saturday in Wytheville. Greg will likely have them. 

The Wytheville Farmer’s market information is farther down the page. You can skip there by clicking here. If you are looking for Herd Share pick up info, jump down the page here

Quail

The quail eggs hatched Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Out of 64 eggs, we got 52 quail chicks. That’s a fantastic 81% hatch rate for quail where 70% is the norm and 50% is not unusual.  

Sheep and Lambs

The sheep and lambs were brought in for their second spring parasite check. We check just before lambing and right after. If they need assistance with worm control, we need to catch it quick — especially the lambs. Good news! Everyone is doing very well.

Creamery

The small cheese cave is humming along beautifully. I put two more wheels of Peaceful Heart Gold in there just this week. The humidifier was put in place today. Now I need hydrometer with a wireless remote app — it’s on the way.

Garden

I have a small sweet banana pepper already. It’s about 2 inches long. The bulk of the rest of the 72 pepper plants are blooming. The potato plants are surging. After the small mishap with the deer in the beans, they are recovering nicely. Still need to get my culinary herbs in the ground. And the celery is still awaiting its relocation to the outdoors. I just need a few more hours in the day and I would have that done.   

That’s it for farm news. Now on to the farmer’s market update. 

Farmer’s Market

Same, same here. Wytheville Farmer’s Market will be open on Saturday 8 am to noon, again allowing you inside to make your purchases and pre-order pickups. I believe that this Saturday the veggie vendors will be more numerous and outside on the covered side. And as I said above, look for those blueberry vendors. Strawberries also are in season right now.

We are in the same place as before. See you there.

You can pre-order with us. Call of send and email and I will get you set up. Find vendors on the Wytheville Farmer’s Market Facebook page. You will find our products listed there as well as on this page.  

We are out of ground lamb but have ribs chops and loin chops. Ground goat is also still available. We are out of beef. It will be August before we have more. We are sold out of beef 1/4s and 1/2s and lambs.   

Herd Shares

Herd Share Peeps, I will be inside near the exit door.  I look forward to seeing each of you. Remember to let me know what you want for next week. Fresh milk and yogurt is available. And as always, cheese and butter. 

New herd share opportunities are available. Contact me via email (melanie@peacefulheartfarm.com) or phone (276-694-4369). 

Please go HERE to learn all about Herd Shares and get on our waiting list.


News This Week


Products Available to Herd Share Owners

Choose 1 per week 1/2 Share Whole Share
Raw Milk 1/2 gallon 1 gallon
Yogurt 1 quart 2 quarts
Butter 1/4 pound 1/2 pound
Ararat Legend 1/4 pound 1/2 pound
Peaceful Heart Gold 1/4 pound 1/2 pound
Pinnacle 1/4 pound 1/2 pound
Clau d’ville Cheddar 1/4 pound 1/2 pound

Products Available to the General Public

Beef Price / Pound
1/4 Beef (approx 100 lbs) SOLD OUT
1/2 Beef (approx 200 lbs) SOLD OUT
Whole Beef (approx 400 lbs) SOLD OUT
Ground (approx 1 lb) SOLD OUT
Lamb Price / Pound
Lamb Loin Chops $18
Lamb Rib Chops $18
Lamb Kabobs SOLD OUT
Ground Lamb (approx 1 lb) SOLD OUT
Whole Lamb (approx 40 lbs) SOLD OUT
1/2 Lamb (approx 20 lbs) SOLD OUT
Chev (Goat) Price / Pound
Ground Chev (approx 1 lb) $12

Let’s Get Together

As always, we’d love to meet you in person.  You can find us at the Wytheville Farmers Market on Saturday from 8:00 am to Noon. Special procedures are in place for your health and safety, but come inside the building and see me.  

As always, you may visit us at our dairy farm in Claudville, Virginia Tuesdays from 10 am to 12 noon and Saturday afternoons from 3 pm to 5 pm. Find out how we raise our animals and why you will love the taste of tradition that is inherent in all of our products. Herd share holders will be able to see up close how their cows are cared for and the cheese operation and where it is stored. 


Peaceful Heart FarmCast

This week’s podcast, “The Blueberries are Ripening” is chocked full of farm homestead news and several fun stories. I hope you enjoy these anecdotal wanderings as much as me. 


Free Downloads

I want to follow up on my previous FarmCast, The Taste of Cheese where I talked about developing your expertise with using descriptive words. The FREE downloads of Classifying Cheese by Type and Category and Expand Your Cheese Vocabulary are still available at our website. Please stop by and get your FREE resources. 

You can LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HEREOr, if you have an Alexa device, just say:Alexa, play podcast Peaceful Heart FarmCast.

And don’t miss an episode! Subscribe to the Peaceful Heart Farm podcast on Apple PodcastsAndroidTuneIn, Stitcher or Spotify


The Blueberries are Ripening

The blueberries are ripening. Some are already ripe. We also have strawberries ripening. The varieties that we have are all everbearing, meaning they will bear fruit all summer long. That story and much more is coming right up.

As always, I want to take a minute to welcome all the new listeners and welcome back the veteran homestead-loving regulars. I appreciate you all so much. Your presence is appreciated. Let me know if there is something in particular you would like to hear me talk about. Is there a particular animal you want to know about? What about cheesemaking? Or are you only interested in eating these great cheeses. Let me know.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Creamery

The new cheese cave is operating wonderfully. I put another couple of wheels of our Peaceful Heart Gold in there just a few days ago. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to open that door and feel the nice cool air come rushing out. Rather than an upright freezer space it is an entire room dedicated to housing our cheeses.

The cheeses are stored on wooden shelves. This is keeping with traditional aging techniques. We turn the various cheeses regularly to keep the interior moisture balanced. Right now, each cheese has its own shelf (we have four varieties) and only one side of the cheese cave is being used. I can’t tell you how freeing it feels to have that many shelves to fill up and no worries about running out of space.

Cool Bot

We use an apparatus called a Cool Bot to keep the room at the proper temperature. It fools the air conditioner into believing it needs to keep running. Normally, an AC compressor is going to stop when the temperature gets down near 60 degrees. However, for cheese we need it to be 52 to 55 degrees for most cheeses. The Cool Bot fools the air conditioner and the compressor keeps running until the lower temperature is reached. It even has a Wi-Fi connection and an app that offers a graph of the temperature over time. It’s a great invention. The cost of a commercial cooling unit would be impossible for us to justify.

Today the humidifier was added. I’ll need to get an electronic and remote humidity monitoring set up in there, I think. As I said, we have one with the Cool Bot for the temperature, but I’m going to look into something to monitor the humidity as well.

The roof over the milking parlor is really moving along nicely. I can see how it is going to look now. Sometimes Scott explains to me how one thing or another is going to be done and I really don’t have any kind of visual in my mind about what all those words mean. Now I can see it and it is amazing.

Quail Chicks

Between Saturday, Sunday and Monday 52 quail chicks hatched out. We were amazed. Normally it is expected that about 70% of the incubating eggs will hatch. That’s a good hatch rate. Sometimes it is much less. But 52 out of 64? That far exceeded our expectations. We did lose one yesterday, so now we have 51. I’m so excited about this great hatch.

They are currently in the brooder where they will remain for the next two weeks. In the first week to 10 days they will fully feather out and at least quadruple in size. It is unbelievable how quickly they grow.

It’s so exciting. These little birds are fantastic to raise. We have set up a cycle and every six weeks we will hatch another batch. This plan will go throughout the summer and into the early fall. We will have lots and lots of quail in the freezer by the end of fall. Since we do not raise chickens yet, this will be our poultry supply for the winter.

Sheep, Lambs, Goats, and Kids

Yesterday we brought the lambs and their moms up for their 2nd spring health check. Spring time is when the internal parasites really take off. We have to keep a closer eye on them during this time. Everyone passed with lying colors. It’s so good to see this. I can’t tell you how good it is to see this.

Homesteading has many challenges, and for us, learning about this cycle was a hard lesson. We do our best to raise our animals as close to nature as possible. Their health is of paramount importance to us. In 2010, when we began, we were completely unaware of how vicious and fatal these internal parasites can be for our sheep and lambs. We watched in horror as a perfectly healthy lamb would succumb to them within days if we weren’t watching closely.

Parasite Monitoring

At one point, we were taking poop samples regularly to try and get a handle on the problem. Basically, we looked at their poop under a microscope and counted the number of eggs. That gave us an idea about the number of parasites they carried. There is also another test where we look inside the lids of their eyes. Here we are looking for dark pink tissue. The lighter it is, the less blood they have and the closer they are to imminent death. For the adults it is dangerous when the eyelids are pale. For the lambs and goat kids it is often a death sentence.

This is all pretty morbid so let me get to the good part. We did begin to use a chemical wormer. And in the beginning, we used it often. Three to four times per year. That is the standard for commercial operations. But we were determined to use better animal husbandry practices to bring this under control. And when I say “bring this under control” that is the mentality of most commercial sheep operations. They want to keep it under control. For us, we wanted to gain control and then, using better pasturing techniques, we wanted the problem to be a small one if not completely eliminated. I can’t say I will ever be comfortable saying it is completely eliminated. We keep a check on them.

Success!!

Today, we check them twice in the spring, once in late summer and once in winter. And I cannot remember the last time we had to use a chemical wormer. I know it has been over a year. And when we do have to use a chemical, it is only on the select few who might need it.

How did we accomplish this? Good pasture rotations was key for us. One of the problems we ran into that cost us a lot of lambs and even a goat or two was a drought that reduced our pasture grass. The grass was far too short. Again, this was the early days. We were uneducated novices. As the animals grazed, they were clipping that grass way too close to the ground where the hatched larva didn’t have to climb very far up the grass to be eaten.

Today, Scott manages this very, very well. He knows exactly how high the grass needs to be before we let any of the animals graze in a particular pasture. And he knows when it is time to move them to the next paddock. The result is a health check like we had yesterday. And the health check we had a couple of months ago just prior to the first lamb arriving. Everyone was doing well. No issues with parasites.

Missing Goat Kid

One small side note on this health check. Along with the sheep and their lambs, we brought up the one renegade goat and her kid. Because we do not want any more mistakes with unauthorized goat breeding, this goat kid needed to be banded. It is a relatively simple procedure that causes the blood circulation to be cut off to his testicles.

We tended to him first and that went off without a hitch. Then Scott picked up each lamb and we checked their health and banded the three boys in that group also. Next, all of the big girls were checked. All done. Let’s get them all back into the field. Only one problem. Sometime during all of the hubbub, the goat kid disappeared. He was just gone. But you know, I’ve said this before. Goat. There is no keeping a goat in when they don’t want to be kept in.

The Search

We looked and looked and could not find him.  I followed his mom all the way back to the pasture in which they were currently residing. I followed her all the way to the back of that pasture until I lost her in the woods. He never showed up. I walked all the way back to the corral area. I checked the other two adjacent pastures. No sign of him. Those goat kids are sneaky and can hide most effectively.

I had exhausted myself walking up and down those hills, likely over a mile. And it was hot. I gave up. He is three months old and can make it on his own if need be. He is old enough to be weaned after all. So, I let it be for the night. Sure enough, this morning when Scott went out to get the cows, there he was, back with his mom. All’s well that ends well. But he really took me for a ride.

Cows and Calves

I have just a short note on the cows and calves. The cows are still doing their thing. That means they eat, drink and sleep. Occasionally, they will offer up a couple of moos. Mostly they eat and then lay around chewing their cud.

The calves managed to get into the travel lane and all the way up to the milking shed. We still don’t know if the gate was accidentally left ajar or if they worked it loose. No matter, they are back in their corner of our world, happily grazing and running around in the grass. Well, Wendell runs around a lot. Luna, not so much. Wendell is only a couple of months old. He still has lots of vim and vigor going.

Blackberries

The blackberries are in full bloom. It will be another month before we reap that harvest. The mulberry trees are blooming. That fruit will not be ready until much later in the year, closer to fall. I haven’t seen any kiwis, but the vines are doing very well. We have a few peaches coming along, but I didn’t see any pears or apples. That is not to say they are not there. I did not look at every single tree. I looked at them in passing as I went to the blueberry patch.

Blueberries

As I said, the blueberries are ripening. We have a couple of rows of blueberry bushes. There are several different varieties. Most of them still need to ripen, but one variety was ready to go. I went out there with a basket of course, just in case. However, my basket was not big enough. There were so many of the early variety that were ripe, I quickly filled that little basket. It held more than a pint but less than a quart. You see? I wasn’t really expecting there to be very many blueberries. So, I was pleasantly surprised.

I carried the little basket filled with blue jewels back up to the milking shed where Scott was still milking the cows. He was pleasantly surprised and grabbed a bunch of them and proceeded to enjoy their sweet loveliness. Not only did he enjoy them, but Daisy got a turn too.

Donkeys Are Fun

Daisy is our eldest miniature donkey. She came up for her usual scratches and hugs. After I provided those, I offered her a blueberry. It took her a minute to figure out that it was a treat. She had never had them before. She has had carrots and apples, but never blueberries. It didn’t take her long to come looking for more – and more, and more, and more.

Her daughter, Cocoa, also came forward. But she was not catching on to the treat I was offering her. Plus, because Daisy had caught on, she kept pushing her muzzle into my hand and stealing the berries I was offering Cocoa. After a while I gave up on Cocoa and gave a few more to Daisy. She loved them.  

Strawberries

On my way back to the house, still having a nearly full basket of blueberries, I stopped by the garden to check on the strawberries. Why not? Sure enough, I brought in a handful of those as well. I put some of the blueberries in my yogurt. What a treat. Later, or perhaps the next day it was, I put some of the strawberries in a dish and poured fresh raw milk cream over them. That was an even better treat. Yum, yum.

Garden

The garden is doing fantastic. I still have some plants to get out there. But the ones already planted are just catching on and steadily branching out. I noticed a small sweet banana pepper already. It was about 2 inches long. And the others are blooming up a storm. The bees are having a time out there.

We have about 100 square feet of potatoes planted and they are getting really big. Potatoes was the first thing we planted. I was not sure that any plants would come up. I was using potatoes we had grown last year as seed potatoes. So they did come up and I’m happy about that. The next big hurdle there will be whether they are healthy all the way through to harvest. The problem with replanting your potatoes is they are subject to all kinds of destructive molds. We shall see. We shall see. Our soil is really good. Scott put fresh, clean compost in all of the beds. Fingers crossed.

Cicadas

As far as the cicadas, what began as a novelty that happens only once every 17 years has now become mostly an annoyance. Night and day. Day and night. They go on and on and on. Sometimes it is so loud, I can hear it clearly through my earbuds even though they are tightly fitted into my ears. Not only that, but the life cycle for many of the adults has reached its end. They are dozens and dozens lying dead all over the place. The birds and the cat are loving that, but I don’t find it quite so attractive. In another week or two it will all be over, not to be seen or heard again until 2037.

Final Thoughts

I love my life here and wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s hard work. It’s sweaty work. Sometimes it’s frustrating and heartbreaking. Many, many times it’s peace and tranquility – except for those cicadas. I’m so done with them. The fresh fruit is coming in and soon the vegetables will be arriving. Cheesemaking is progressing. I’m getting better and better with my methods. The creamery that rose out of the ground over three years ago is getting closer and closer to completion. I couldn’t ask for more in my life.

I’m so happy you came along for the ride around the homestead. I look forward to bringing you more stories next time.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please hop over to Apple Podcasts, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review. Also, please share it with any friends or family who might be interested in this type of content.

Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.

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FARM STORE Hours:

Tuesday:  10am – 12pm
Saturdays:  3 – 5pm

Peaceful Heart Farm

224 Cox Ridge Road, Claudville, VA 24076

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