Raising Animal Protein

Raising animal protein for food on the homestead. What are some of the options? And what are some of the factors to consider when making your choices. As you may know our choices for raising animal protein on the homestead currently includes cows, goats, sheep and poultry. In the very near future, we plan on having pigs. There are other types of protein that we may have or have considered. I’ll talk about all of those.

But first, as always, I will never take you all for granted. You make this show possible.

Welcome to any and all new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. You mean so much to me. Thank you so much for your support of this podcast. It has been a while and I’m so excited to share with you all about the homestead.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

We’ve had a busy morning already. Scott is milking. I set up for making butter in a little while and put some yogurt on to ferment. It will be ready in less than 8 hours. I’ve been out to the garden and planted a half dozen flowers, stocks this time, and let the chickens out to play.

Chickens/Quail

Chickens you say. When did that happen? If I remember correctly, the eggs began hatching on April the 8th. I had 24 eggs each of American White Bresse and Black Copper Maran. There were two incubators running and all went well. I hatched 17 White American Bresse and 7 Black Copper Marans.

Due to the low hatch rate on the Marans, the eBay seller sent me another dozen for the cost of postage. I incubated those and hatched three more of the Black Copper Maran from that batch.

The first batch of low hatch rate was not my fault. Most of the eggs were not fertile or perhaps were “scrambled” in the shipping process. But I must say that of those that didn’t hatch in the last dozen, four were nearly or fully formed. I have no idea why they died just before hatching but have to believe it must have been something I did or did not do with that last batch.

At the moment, I have 14 American White Bresse and 9 Black Copper Maran. I lost three of the Bresse and one of the Marans. That last loss happened just a few days ago. That particular chicken was hatched six days after the rest of the crew. It was always smaller, but a little over 2 weeks ago, it developed some kind of disorder. It couldn’t really stand up. The vet happened to be here that day and took a look at it. She recommended antibiotics for a few days and see how it goes. That seemed to help a bit but eventually the chick succumbed to whatever the ailment was.

The vet did not have a lot of information on chicken issues of this type. She said there are just too many variables without testing. And chicken generally are not worth the cost of testing. So, there you go.

Dogs

There is a lot to talk about with the dogs. I’ll try to keep it brief. Let me start with the current state of affairs and then go back and fill in a few details. Finn disappeared about 4 weeks ago and has not returned. While he and Charlotte escaped a lot, Charlotte has always been back the next day and Finn never more than two days. We did have to go and fetch him three different times. He seemed to get so far away that he did not know how to get home.

Charlotte and Mack are now guarding the sheep. They seem to be doing well with that task. Charlotte still goes wherever she wants, whenever she wants, but she stays relatively close. She grieved for about two weeks after Finn disappeared. I had her on a tether so she could not run away, but even after I let her loose, she was very quiet. Being a Great Pyrenees, she generally barks a lot. But there was nothing for many days. Now she is back to barking up a storm.

Fear of Thunder

Speaking of storms, on the day that Finn disappeared, there was a storm and Charlotte returned home only hours after they both escaped. I found that she is very scared of thunder. Still, after seven months, she will not let me walk up to her to pet her. But if there is thunder, she is right there beside me looking for comfort. I can pet her all I want in those moments. But Finn did not show up with her, not unusual.

Let’s see if I can be brief regarding of the circumstances of Finn’s final escape. Starting about six weeks ago, we were trying to get them to bond with the sheep so we put all of them together in the front pastures. We had already been trying this for some time in the field next to the house. We were able to contain the dogs there. The same was not true when we moved them to the front fields. For several days we tried patching places in the fence to keep them contained. They still escaped nearly every day. After an escape that had Scott going a few miles to pick up Finn, we put both of them back in the field right next to the house. Finn was put on a tether. Charlotte will stay close by to him. We then spent long hours discussing what we were going to do.

Another Coyote Attack

In the meantime, we left the sheep in the front pasture. Within three days of the dogs being out of the pasture, we had a coyote attack. We lost six of seven lambs and one of our new ewes. The remaining sheep and lamb were moved back into the field next to the house with the dogs. Just three days alone and the coyotes zeroed in on them. We suffered yet another huge emotional and financial loss. It’s far in the past now and I am over it, but as you can probably imagine, it was quite traumatic at the time. Again, I was questioning whether we wanted to have sheep and goats.

I got over that bit of negativity and we still have the sheep and a deposit on some goat kids. More on that later.

After lots and lots of research, I decided to try and train Charlotte and Finn with an ecollar. It was recommended over and over again in the Livestock Guardian Training group on Facebook. No matter the ecollar system, it is an expensive and time-consuming undertaking.

We were keeping Finn on the tether and Charlotte always stayed with him. But what to do about protecting the sheep? We can’t keep them in the same field forever. The sheep must be rotated from field to field for their health and the availability of grass. The idea of fixing fences every day, every time we move them to another field or paddock was completely unrealistic. The time to complete the ecollar fence and training would be months and months. We decided to go back to an original plan before we got Finn and Charlotte. Mack was to be the sheepdog.

We had kept him separate with the cows because he chased the sheep. He bonded well with the cows and we were preoccupied with trying to train Charlotte and Finn to guard the sheep. All was well there. Now that Finn and Charlottes plan with the sheep was scrapped, we decided to bring Mack back into the picture. And this was the fatal day that we lost Finn.

Let’s Train Mack

Now that we decided to train Mack with the sheep, what was the plan to make that happen? We needed to check the health of the flock after their coyote ordeal. The plan was to bring all the sheep and Mack to the corral together so he could see us working with the sheep. Then we would bring the lot of them back to the field next to the house for a week or so until Mack could start to see them as his animals to be protected. Well, we needed to move Finn and Charlotte out of that field while we made this short jaunt up the travel lane to the corral and back.

We put Finn and Charlotte into the lower garden fenced area. We had held them there before and there was no problem. We didn’t take the time to move the tether. By the time we returned with the sheep and Mack only about 30 minutes had passed. I’m guessing that within 10 minutes Finn and Charlotte had gotten into the orchard and then completely out of the perimeter fence.

I’m still grieving over Finn. Tomorrow will be four weeks. There is not much hope, but I still cling to just a little bit of hope. He has a collar that has our farm name and phone number clearly visible from 3 feet away. I can’t imagine someone would steal him. How would they know they needed to strongly contain him? He could have run afoul of a bear or that pack of coyotes. He could have been hit by a car, though we have found no evidence of that. Someone could have shot him. He could have gotten to the Primland resort. They have all sorts of bears, lions, and who knows what else over there. It’s an internationally known hunting resort. I just don’t know. I just don’t know. And that’s the worst, not knowing. He could still be out there.

A Brief Hope Still Burns

About three weeks ago, we had a call from someone who thought they had “our dog”. I was so relieved, but then it wasn’t our dog, it wasn’t Finn. It was a Great Pyrenees dog that was extremely skinny and had some medical issues. Perhaps Finn is still out there somewhere like that trying to survive. There is that small string tied to hope coming up again. I better move on.

Sheep/Lambs

The remaining sheep and lamb are doing really well. We moved forward with the plan for Mack guarding them. Charlotte was also in the same field and I let her off the tether after only a few days. She was so despondent I thought it was best. My instincts were correct for once in that situation. No more escaping. She stays pretty close, though she does still roam around various places on the property. I will eventually have to train her to stay within the perimeter.

I think Mack is beginning to bond with the sheep. Moving him out of the field next to the house has sealed that deal. Before that move, the sheep were with Mack and Charlotte, but the calves were also in that field. Mack immediately bonded with the calves, but not the sheep. Moving the dogs and sheep to a separate paddock from the calves seems to have worked. Fingers crossed, so far it has worked. The sheep are still wary of the dogs. It will likely take months and months for them to become comfortable with Mack. I mentioned in a previous podcast that he is food aggressive. He has chased them away from his food multiple times. We are working on a system where the dogs can have their food and the other animals cannot get to it. The sheep are easily chased away but we really want them to get along with the dogs. Eventually, all of the cows and sheep will be together and the cows are not so easily chased away. And truly, the dogs should not have to fight for their food. Yet another plan is a work in progress. Scott is working on that today.

Goats

I’ve gone back and forth about whether I want to bring goats back onto the homestead. I already decided that I want Kiko goats. They are very expensive goats. And when I say expensive, I mean very, very expensive. The kind of expense that would really hurt our finances.

I have put down a deposit on a trio of Kiko goats. It will be late summer, fall or even next spring before we have these goats. Two does and a buck as a starter herd is the plan. Not only is it imperative that the dogs begin guarding the sheep so I can feel confident they will guard the goats, but more training will be needed so that the dogs don’t harm the goats when they arrive. Thankfully, that is still quite a few months down the road. There should be plenty of time to get the dogs and sheep stabilized in their symbiotic relationship. Adding the goats will be just a short training period with the goats in the next field over where they can be seen but with no contact. After a few weeks, we would introduce them to the dogs with close supervision until we are comfortable that the dogs will accept them as part of the family.  

More on the goats as that time gets closer.

Cows/Calves

Luna went to a new home. We sold Luna and her bull calf to a lovely couple looking for a family milk cow that was not going to overwhelm them with milk. Luna was perfect for them. And her bull calf is going to be breeding their other cows. It was a great fit and I’m so glad that we could rehome her so well.

Since Luna is rehomed and Cookie finally had her calf, we are now milking three cows. Butter, Cookie and Claire. I make cheese on Mondays and the rest goes to the calves and fulfills the herd shares. All is going well with the cows at the moment.

AI for Spring 2023 Calves

AI for birthing in March has already started. We AI’d eight cows. By Monday we will know whether we need to try again with any of these girls. If we see signs of any of them coming into heat again, we call the vet and she will try again.

We also have a tentative plan to breed one or two in the fall so that we have milk year-round. Perhaps if only one or two do not take, we will let one slide and try again in December for births in September 2023. And there is always Cookie. She calved so late that she did not make it into the initial AI session. At the moment, she is already slated for December AI. Of course, we can still change our mind at any time until mid-July. AI can be done as late as Mid-July for projected births no later than mid-April 2023. There are always so many decisions to be made.  

Garden

I’ll briefly mention the garden. Finally, the entire garden is planted. Yesterday I put in the last of the winter squash and melon seeds. I may plant a few more flowers, but the veggie part is done.

Tomatoes, Lima Beans, Eggplant and Chard

I ended up with a lot more tomatoes than I had planned. Who knows that I am going to do with them? I have four beds of baby lima beans that are looking good. The eggplant is going to be stellar this year, as is the chard. The chard is pretty easy, but I must say I am more than pleased with the eggplant. I haven’t grown it in four or five years because of repeated failures. I had given up on being able to raise that vegetable. I’ll say it again, these plants look fantastic this year. This could be the year of my success with eggplant.

Summer Squash and Cucumber

I also planted cucumber and summer squash which is also a first for several years. They have never done well for me. We shall see how they progress. It is too early to tell how they are going to do. We only transplanted my plant starts less than a week ago. I see many of them catching on, but time will tell.

Onions and Herbs

The onions look fantastic. I also have cilantro, parsley, and peppers planted. The cilantro looks weak. That one I keep trying but cannot say I have been successful with it – YET. No basil. I only started Thai basil and I sold all of those plant starts at the farmer’s market. I may have to buy a plant or two of sweet basil just to refresh my stock of dried basil. We shall see.

Winter Squash/Pumpkin

The last few beds have winter squash and pumpkin. Some of those are from seed which has not yet sprouted. I hope to see a jungle of plants out there in the next month.  

Creamery

As far as the creamery, Scott and I (mostly Scott) are putting up the ceilings in the barn and milking parlor area. He has finally gotten caught up on all of his other tasks and is moving ahead with completing the creamery. As usual, we are behind schedule, but you know what?, we will keep plugging along. It will get done, but on God’s timeline and now ours. That’s about all I have to say about the creamery today. I hope to have lots of updates on this topic in the next podcast. Let’s get on to the topic of the day.

Raising Animal Protein

We have lots of resources that I’ve already talked about. As you can tell, there are always challenges, no matter how well you think you’ve laid out your plan. And every day brings new decisions that you never knew you would have to make. No matter how educated or prepared you think you are, just know that every day is a learning experience. You will never get it done, settled, never to change.

Large or Small to Start

Unless you have previous experience with large animals, cows may not be your first goto animal for raising protein. My suggestion is to start with something smaller. Sheep and goats are smaller, but even smaller than that are chickens. Chickens are always a great place for anyone to start. Comparatively, they are easy. In many places, you can raise chickens in your backyard. If you have an HOA, maybe not, you may have to forgo the chickens, but there are other options. I’ll talk about some in a moment.

The thing to keep in mind with chickens is whether you are looking for egg or meat protein – or both. If you are looking for both, check out dual purpose birds. There are many other factors to take into consideration, but this one is the most important.

Choosing Chickens

You don’t want to get caught up in exotic chickens, really cool looking chickens, that don’t produce the meat and eggs you require for your family. While many exotic-looking chickens can provide exactly what you need, it is important to check the statistics regarding the finished size of the bird and/or expected numbers of eggs per year. Some may be as little as 150 eggs per year, while others may produce nearly 300. Generally, the more eggs, the less body size. And vice-versa. More body size can produce significantly few eggs. It’s not 100% true, but a good rule of thumb. Rely on the published statistics for your chosen breed. While you may not buy from Stromberg’s or McMurray’s (those are the two biggest outfits that I know), they are a great resource for comparing one breed to another. They each have lots and lots of information about the chicken breeds they carry. It really helps in making your decision. Then you can choose who and where to get the chicks for your enterprise.

Once you’ve chosen your breed, the internet, in general, is your resource for details. Search engines are amazing for providing answers to specific questions. Just today, I looked up the age at which my chickens should start laying. For the Bresse it can be as early as four months old, while the Marans can be as late as six months old. I didn’t really consider that in my decision for which breed to choose, but it may be an important stat for you. How quickly can you begin to get eggs? Which breeds may have health issues? Are there any climate issues to consider based on where you live in the country? And so on. Choose your breed, but then read up on it to make sure it will be a good fit for you. And as always, you may make a mistake and need to start again. No problem. You won’t be able to think of every single question and get every choice correct the first time. As I said, every day is a learning experience.

You may consider ducks, though often we keep ducks just because they are cute and not so much for meat. Having said that, they do provide good meat and they come with their own set of challenges related to water. I don’t have any and can’t provide much more information than that. They always seem like more trouble than they are worth. Your mileage may vary.

Rabbits and Quail

Other small animals to consider are rabbits and quail. Both of these can be grown in the smallest of environments. And an HOA will likely not even know you have them as long as you keep the manure cleaned up regularly. Both tend to produce a lot of odors from excrement. Out here, I can get away with any amount of odor I can stand. In an apartment or HOA subdivision, you will need to find ways to dispose of the manure likely on a daily basis. As with all animals, there is learning to be done, but both of these animals are relatively easy to raise.

Goats and Sheep

I would say that the next largest animals up the scale are goats and sheep. Obviously, you need some land for this. I can’t imagine any HOA allowing grazing animals in your yard. But you also don’t need a huge amount of acreage for just a few sheep or goats. You will need fencing. If you keep them close to you, a family dog can often provide deterrents to predators such as other dogs and a coyote or two. An acre or two of good pasture will suffice for one to five goats and/or sheep. Of course, it depends on where you live, but supplementing with hay is always an option if you don’t have the grazing space. You’ll likely need hay even if you have the acreage.

Pigs

Next up would be pigs. We haven’t given these guys a try yet, but it is only a matter of time. We have been so focused on the cows, sheep and goats that we simply haven’t had the time to get this enterprise started. You can also keep one pig in a relatively small area. They are generally friendly and easy to work with from everything I’ve seen. Of course, it depends on the particular animal. You could end up with a mean or unruly animal. Just like humans, there are all kinds of personalities out there. Visit the farm where you plan to purchase your pigs and see how they interact with them. Is the breed you are considering a docile breed? Will it do well on pasture. Sad as it is, there are some breeds that will require some confinement and lots of feed to live and grow. They have been bred to thrive in that environment. If you have woods, you have a great environment for raising pigs more naturally. This is another animal with which I have no experience, so I’m not going to say more here. Just listing it as an option for animal protein sources.  

Bovine Animals

If you are into the big animals, cows and even bison might be a good choice for you. Even with a cow, you can get by on a couple of acres. You’ll need more or less hay according to where you live. And as an aside, all of this info is for the US. I am definitely not your resource for anywhere outside the continental US. And I don’t have any info on raising bison, but there are plenty of them available out in the Oklahoma and Texas areas. They are a big, scary animal but it’s definitely doable. Check out Arms Family Homestead for info on bison.

How Much Do You Need?

Anyway, as far as beef, one butchered cow will provide protein for at least a family of four for a year. It depends on how much meat that your family consumes and that in turn depends on their ages. A couple of teenagers and you need the whole cow. If your children are younger, you might only need ½ a cow. And you will need to factor in what other animal protein sources you have chosen to raise.

Now that I am on that subject, I’ll give you our stats and you can perhaps scale it up for you and your family. For the two of us in a year we plan for as much as ¼ cow, ½ pig, 1 lamb and 1 goat. That amount changes depending on which animals we have available at any given time. But if all things were equal, that is what I plan for the two of us for a year’s worth of animal protein. Add to that lots and lots and lots of eggs from the chickens. As far as chicken meat, I don’t have a very good idea of how much we consume. Unfortunately, I’ve been buying them at the grocery store at irregular times. Usually, when I’m shopping and think, “gee, I haven’t had chicken in a while” and then I buy one of those rotisserie ones. All of that is coming to an end soon, thank God. At the moment we don’t eat a lot of chicken simply because it requires that trip to town.

I’ve heard others plan the number of meat chickens from one a week to one a month. There are 52 weeks in the year and 12 months. Your needs will fall in there somewhere. And all of that has to change if chickens and rabbits are your main source of animal protein. You might need two a week or some other number. Make your best guess and then adjust each year as you narrow those numbers down for your changing family situation. Again, your plans will change as you learn.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s podcast. I’m changing my schedule to make it easier for me to publish podcasts more often. There is always so much going on and the animals and gardens have first priority – and of course getting that creamery up and running. We will get there eventually. In the meantime, I’m assessing how I use my time and opening up more opportunities to share our homestead updates and a little bit of wisdom on how you might get started.

God willing, I think I’ve given you enough basics on animal protein sources to get you started. Shoot me an email with any questions you have about getting starting with growing your own animal protein for food. I’m always happy to take a few moments to respond. Tell me what you are trying to accomplish and I will try and provide some guidance or at the very least, where to find more information.

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Planting the Garden

Planting the garden this year is a little tricky. Each year I have to determine what vegetables I want to grow. I don’t plant everything. After years of just planting everything that caught my eye, I am now choosy about what I plant.

There are quite a few farm updates to talk about. Before I get to it, as always, 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 never want to take you for granted. Thank you so much for being here. Let’s get started on some homestead updates.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

It’s officially spring according to the calendar. We are still having quite a few cold days, but birthing is happening and planting the garden is on the horizon. We have calves, lambs and chicks in the incubator. Let’s start with the calves.

Cows and Calves

We had and/or have four cows and/or heifers that were bred this year. Three have given birth, all within 8 days. That’s how AI works. Everyone is fertilized at the same time and the births come close together.

We have two bulls and a heifer so far. We bought Cookie and added her to the homestead last year. She was not bred with our other cows and her delivery date is sometime in April. So about two to three weeks before we have that last calf. Incidentally, we expect to breed seven cows and two heifers beginning the first week of June. We will have lots of calves, more calves next year than we have ever had on our homestead. Just in time for the cheesemaking to get into high gear. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The calves are beautiful and growing like weeds. We are still looking for names for the two bull calves, but the heifer is named Penny. You can see pics of these guys on our Locals.com community or on our Facebook page.

Sheep and Lambs

As far as the sheep and lambs, the ewes were pasture bred. That means we stick the ram in there with them and he does his job according to their cycling schedule. Interestingly enough, all five ewes delivered within three days. They delivered even more closely than the AI’d cows. We had a total of eight but lost one that was part of a set of triples.

Stellar Ewe

It is very unusual for ewes to deliver more than one lamb in their first season. One young lady had triplets. She is currently raising two of them and doing really well. I think we can probably expect triplets from her every year. The oldest ewe consistently has twins – really big twins. They were the last born and looked to be a week old compared to the others.

The breakdown on the lambs is four girls and three boys. We will be keeping the girls and enlarging our sheep flock. For quite a few years we have kept the flock small. But quite frankly, the market for lambs and goats is going crazy right now and we need the extra income to finish the creamery. And we really like these animals. It’s great that they can now support themselves and provide a bit of income. In the past, we worked at a break-even margin, eating a lot of the lamb ourselves. That does save money on groceries, so there is that.

Goats

We have not had goats on the homestead for over a year. Next week we are visiting a nearby goat operation. They have registered Kiko goats. I’m not sure we will be able to get a starter herd this year, but we plan to go and see what she has and ask a lot of questions. They will be really expensive as goats go. We need to prepare and budget for that as well.

We keep goats for their meat of course, but they are also very useful in keeping the pastures cleaned up from unwanted brush and pine trees. Goats love woody stemmed plants. They will completely clear out all of the wild blackberries, wild rose, and generally all thorny plants that sheep and cows will not eat. It’s exciting to think about having these love creatures back on the homestead. I’ll keep you posted on when that might happen.

Quail and Chickens

The quail are doing well. I will be hatching out at least one batch of quail in the near future. However, at the moment, I have two incubators running with two dozen chicken eggs in each. I’m so excited about having chickens.

American White Bresse

I ordered fertile eggs instead of live birds. The reason was the cost for the breeds I chose. The first breed is call American White Bresse. They are a heritage breed that originated in France. Goes well with our French breed cows. Anyway, they are bred to forage well and are traditionally raised with their feed soaked in milk. Isn’t that cool. I always have skim milk after taking the cream for butter. Now we have yet another place the milk can go.

These birds are dual purpose. They lay lots and lots of eggs and also grow to a good size for meat. Another advantage is they reach their laying age about 6 to 8 weeks earlier than typical American dual-purpose chickens.

Black Copper Maran

The other set of eggs are Black Copper Maran. These birds don’t get quite as large and I’m okay with that. I personally don’t care for the really large chickens. The cool thing about the Black Copper Maran is they have the darkest brown eggs available. They are milk chocolate colored. They are so beautiful. They also lay quite a few eggs and mature more quickly than American dual breeds.

The Black Copper Maran is also a French breed. Post-WWII France, the breed was endangered and close to extinction. The French Department of Ag rescued it and began a breeding program. Today, there are lots of varieties. The Black Copper Maran is still quite rare in the US. This is yet another expensive bird which is why I went with the eggs rather than trying to get chicks. The day-old chicks can cost up to $80 a piece. Two dozen eggs were about $85 I think, perhaps more with shipping.

Anyway, we will have baby chicks in a few days. If I get a 50% hatch rate or a dozen of each breed, I will be happy. That will be plenty of hens to lay eggs and the rest for meat. Then next year we raise more.

Orchard

Scott has been working diligently in the orchard pruning and cleaning up old canes in the blackberry rows. He still has a long way to go. The trees are done and the blueberries are done.

Somewhere when he was working in the blueberries, he placed an order for more plants. There was a particular variety that did really well for us. He ordered 50 of those. That meant he had to dig 50 holes along with fertilizing and other soil treatments.

It’s raining today so the blackberries will have to wait still another day before he completes that trimming job. It has been years since they were pruned and cut back. The rows he has completed look fantastic. I look forward to lots of berries this year. The berries always grow better when the plants are trimmed and maintained. More energy can go into making fruit and not so much into keeping up old canes.

Garden

The garden is still patiently waiting to be revived. Planting the garden is currently on hold. I have lettuce and onions ready to plant. Steps still needed there are getting the compost over to the garden and getting is sifted so it can be used as top dressing for each bed.

Last fall, Finn the wonderful livestock guardian dog, dug holes – really big holes – in a lot of the beds. There is a lot of work that needs to happen there. In total we have 20 beds and two long and thin areas that connect 10 boxes each. So, 10 boxes that are 3 feet wide and close to 7 feet long are all connected at one of the short ends. That continuous bed is 70 feet long and about 2 feet wide. And there are two sets of those.

I’m still not completely sure what I am planting in the 70 feet long areas. Last year it was 50 tomato plants down one side. The other had early green peas and then nothing for the rest of the year. I may plant flowers in there this year. Who knows? I still have time to make that happen. All 20 beds are planned. I’ll come back to that when I talk about today’s topic of what I am planting and why.

Creamery

First, let me finish up the homestead updates with the creamery. We have lots and lots of materials all over the place. Scott ordered just about everything we need to complete this project. With prices skyrocketing, he ordered fast and furious to keep the cost as low as possible. It will cost a bit in interest, but nowhere near the cost of waiting as prices are still rising and sometimes nearly double what they were just a few months ago.

As soon as he finishes with the orchard and readying the garden, he will be hot and heavy on getting that creamery finished. We are looking for that to be before year end. Yay. It will be about 5 ½ years since we broke ground on it in the spring of 2017.

Let’s get on with planting the garden this year.

Planting the Garden

What will we have and why?

Back to those long pieces that connect all the beds, the current plan is to have cherry tomatoes and cucumber plants along the orchard wall. I may need to start more cucumbers as I plan to sell some of those plants at the farmer’s market beginning in May. Now that I think about it, I may need to rethink how many plant-starts I have and get on the ball with planting more if needed.

All along the other wall will be Brussel sprouts. Scott loves these little cabbages and I want to see if I can grow them successfully. We do have problems with all sorts of pests that attack the cole crops. That’s c-o-l-e crops. At a basic level, they are all plants that belong to the mustard or brassica family. They descended from the cabbage. They grow better in cool weather. Some people think that is where Cole came from, but alas, no. Cole is a Latin word that means stem.

Cole Crops

The most common plants in the Cole category are: broccoli, brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, turnips and watercress. We have tried most of these plants and have had consistent problems with the cabbage moth. I’m not sure what I will do this year to stave off this pest. What do you do? Anyone out there got some tips on this?

So that takes care of the two outlying beds. Now, for the 20 individual beds, 10 on each side. Right now, my plan is three beds of lettuce. For the most part, that will be sold at the farmer’s market. Three beds of spinach because Scott loves it. I haven’t ever successfully grown spinach so, fingers crossed, this will be the year I make a breakthrough on growing beautiful spinach.

I plan on a couple of beds of herbs including basil – two types – parsley, and cilantro. A bed of Swiss chard and one bed of eggplant. Again, Scott loves these. I have been quite successful with Swiss chard and I want to get better at growing eggplant. I was successful one year, but not in any successive year. We shall see how it goes this year.

Squash and Onions

I will have three beds of onion. Only white onions this year. I have found they keep the best and it just doesn’t make sense to me to grow onions that go bad after only a short while, no matter how pretty red they are or how sweet the yellows may taste. I’ll have three beds of winter squash, spaghetti, acorn and butternut. We love squash. And finally, four – yes count them – four beds of lima beans. Last year it was green beans and crowder peas. The year before that it was various dried beans, red – black and white. This year is the year for lima beans.

Plants for Farmer’s Market

Other things I’m growing for market are Jet Star tomatoes, hot peppers, cucumbers, summer squash (yellow crookneck, zucchini and white scallop) and herbs. I’m also going to start some flowers. I need to get going on that. Spring is moving along rapidly.

That’s about all I have time for right now. I still have lots to do before the day ends. Scott is in here waiting for me to finish so we can go milk cows. I love milking cows. It’s so peaceful.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed getting up-to-date on the homestead and learning some about our method of madness in gardening. Planting the garden always encompasses many considerations. Perhaps my thought process is more complex or even less complex than yours. In the end, it is one of the most enjoyable times of my life is thinking about what my plan is and then executing that plan. And each year planting the garden will be different and I love it. Life on the homestead is always evolving. There is never a dull moment around here. Thanks so much for traveling along with me. Hope you tune next time as well. We love having you.

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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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Producing Your Own Food: Planning

Today I will be continuing the conversation on producing your own food. There is a lot to cover and what I can include in this podcast will only whet your appetite for more. Growing food for you and your family is one of the most satisfying occupations in the world. That is of course in my humble opinion. I’ll keep talking about it as long as you want to keep listening to it.

Welcome new listeners and welcome back veteran homestead-loving regulars. Thank you so much for stopping by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. There are so many exciting things happening around the homestead. Let’

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Let’s start with homestead updates. I have some fantastic news. Well, it’s fantastic for us. I’ll save it for last, just before I get into the next “producing your own food” segment.

Cows

We have three cows and one heifer that are scheduled to give birth very soon. Claire and Butter are two of the cows, Luna is the heifer. All of these girls are due sometime around the 23rd of March. Our newest cow, Cookie, is due in mid-April.

I forgot to tell you all about Cookie in the last podcast. She is our latest addition to the homestead. Cookie is about 4 years old. We were a little concerned about meeting our needs for milk in the early spring so we started looking around for a good milking girl to add, at least temporarily, until we get our younger girls bred and producing milk.

Cookie is a great cow. She is a from an organic dairy about an hour and a half from us. She is mostly jersey but has some guernsey in her as well. Originally, she was a 4-H show cow. That makes her very friendly and an attention seeker. We love her already. And it looks like she integrated into the herd without issue.

Sheep

We expect lambs in the next two weeks. There are five ewes that are currently pregnant. Two of them are older and I expect at least one of those girls to have twins. The other three are just about a year old. Normal birthing is for yearlings to have a single lamb. We are looking for five to seven lambs this season.

Dogs

Finn and Charlotte are on patrol duty for keeping these guys safe. Finn is still escaping regularly and we are working on a training regime for him. Every time he goes where he is not supposed to be, he gets put on a tether for two days. We are hoping this will be effective. However, it is well known that any dog with Great Pyrenees genetics will tend to roam. Recently, he hasn’t been roaming outside of the perimeter fences, but we really want to train him to stay in the area he is assigned. We shall see how it all works out. It may be that we simply have to live with him going wherever he wants, whenever he wants. It is obviously dangerous for him, but we do not want to deflate his spirit and ruin him as a livestock guardian dog. I hope that the birth of the new lambs will give him better incentive to stay with his charges. We shall see.

Quail

The quail seem to cause me perpetual grief. So many people love walking in nature and I do too. It seems so peaceful and calm and beautiful. The true reality is that nature has a really brutal side to it. You all know this. Storms and drought and fires and floods are all daily happenings around the world. What we tend to overlook is how brutal animals can be with each other. The quail have been a real challenge in this area.

After months of no issues, all of a sudden, I might have one, two, three birds that are brutally attacked by the others in the cage. It is heartbreaking. I then have to make special arrangements for healing of these unfortunately bullied birds. If I can find the culprit, I separate her from the rest. One dilemma is where do I keep all of these? What quarters do I have available for housing?

Quail Clinic

Right now, I have two roosters in the bottom right cage. One is in the main part and the other is in the enclosed box the hens use for laying eggs and all use for taking dust baths. The one in the main part of the cage was not too badly injured. The other was in really bad shape. Yesterday it looked like he had his eyesight back in at least one eye. This is after three or four days of complete blindness. I’m happy he is healing. I still don’t know what I’m going to do with these two guys after they are healed. That cage is meant for hens who are laying eggs.

I believe I found the perpetrator. I took a chance and put her in another cage. I took out the rooster in that cage and put him in another cage. That was risky also. It is always risky to put one bird or another into a group of strangers. So far, after a few days of this setup, there have been no more incidents. But I have a cage of hens with no rooster. That means eggs, but no fertility. Do I dare put a rooster back in there with the mad hen? I know, you probably think I should just cull her and be done with it. I agree, though the problem I have is that one quail is barely enough for one child. We need three or four to make a meal. I could take the two injured roosters as well. But the risk there is I need them for breeding later. It’s all so complicated. So, what is the solution?

Chickens

Well, the solution is for me to give up on quail altogether. Maybe another could handle it, but not me. We have ordered baby chicks which should arrive around the first or second week of April. It will take them many months to get large enough to provide us with eggs. I will deal with the quail until then. Once the chickens are grown and producing eggs, all of the quail will go to freezer camp. Their cage will be repurposed. Perhaps at a later date we will add rabbits to the homestead and this will be the perfect housing for them.

I shopped in detail and we discussed at length which chicken breed we wanted to raise. In the end, we settled on two breeds. First the Barred Plymouth Rock. These are black and white spotted chickens. They lay brown eggs. Second the White Plymouth Rock. These are pure white and they also lay brown eggs.

Dual-Breed Chickens

There were several reasons for choosing these two breeds. The first and most important reason is that they are what is called “dual-breed” chickens. Like our cows that are abundant in meat and milk, these chickens excel at producing both meat and eggs. Both breeds produce large brown eggs and top out in weight at nearly the same size.

I thought I had decided on a different breed, the Buff Orpington. I loved their beautiful tan color and fluffy look. However, after comparing breeds, it became obvious that the Buff Orpington, while dual-purpose, leaned toward meat more than eggs. They produced an equal number of eggs to the Plymouth Rocks, but medium rather than large. And the fully grown Buff Orpington is significantly larger than the Plymouth Rock breeds. I’m very happy with my choice. Eggs were the most important to us, but not to the exclusion of meat.

Egg Layers

There is a breed of chicken called Easter egg. They lay multiple colors of eggs. Then there are the really productive egg layers, but the birds don’t put on meat like the dual-purpose breeds. I may check them out in the future because, as I said, our primary need is for eggs. And I may raise a few high producing egg layers and see how the carcass compares with the dual-breed chickens. It’s a whole new adventure.

Scott has been watching videos on various types of chicken coops. Our goal here is to provide just enough protection for two or three years. So a simpler, more stream-lined chicken coop is in order. We want something that can be completed in a day or two. Later, after the creamery is built, Scott can spend some time creating the perfect chicken coop complete with an attached garden shed. The coop will be in the garden area with immediate access to the orchard. This is for free-range grass grazing in the orchard and pest control in both areas.

Let’s move on to my continuing series on producing your own food. Animals and poultry will come later. Right now, we are focusing mostly on vegetables in the garden.

Producing Your Own Food

Today I am going to focus on the planning aspect of gardening. I’ve talked about deciding what kind of planting you will do – container, raised beds, row crops and so on. Last time I touched on starting plants from seeds. But how do you decide exactly what you are going to put in those beds and containers and seed starting plugs?

Planning

The first and most important thing you need to hear is to grow what you like to eat. There is no point growing lots and lots of gorgeous lettuce if you only eat salad once every two weeks. And while peppers are easy to grow, how many do you think you will use? And what kinds?

These are decisions that need to be made before you go into your big box store and start looking at those rows and rows of seeds. Decide before you open that giant catalog. I can’t tell you how much I love looking at those different plants and all of the various vegetables that can be grown. It is really fun – and it is so easy to get bogged down in the details and endless options.

Tips

Here are some tips. If you are going to grow zucchini, start small with one or two plants. Some kinds of vegetables produce all summer long. Zucchini, yellow squash and the various white scallop squash are examples. Even a couple of each of these plants will sometimes be overwhelming for two people. By the end of the season, you may never want to see another zucchini again. On the up side, I guarantee you that if you love this veggie, this aversion will dissipate to nothing over the winter. By spring you will be chomping at the bit to grow it again.

While lettuce and tomatoes sound great for your salad, they are not necessarily complimentary in the real world. Lettuce likes cool weather and turns bitter in the hot summer and will bolt. That means it goes to seed and stops producing. On the other hand, it’s not unusual in this part of the country to not get your first tomato until July. The lettuce is long gone. Of course, you can grow late summer/early fall lettuce and likely still have tomatoes to go in your salad. Eating with the seasons is a bit of a learning curve and can catch first-time gardeners by surprise. While I said grow what you like to eat, you might find that what you like to eat doesn’t look quite the same in the garden as it does on the grocery shelf.

How Much to Grow

Let’s see, what else? There is no good solution to knowing how much you should grow of any given vegetable. While crop reports and projected crop yields may give you an idea, your soil, your location in the world, your average weather, the fertilization schedule, pest attacks all contribute to outcome of your crop. Pest and weeds are a greater problem in infertile soil. That means in the beginning, before your soil is built to perfection, you can expect lower yields. Every year I expect greater yields. I learn more about when and how much to water, how much fertilizer is required and how often. The weather is different each and every year and that will never change.

So how do you plan for how much to grow? Some of that is limited by the space you intend to use. Beans come in a packet that usually has about 40 seeds. Plant one packet and see what it produces. Learn about how to grow the plant before settling on how much you will grow. Use your first year or two or three to simply learn how to grow things.

Tomatoes

I’ll give some examples with a raised bed garden system with a bit of a ground crop on the side. Let’s start with tomatoes. One cherry tomato plant will provide a constant supply of candy all summer long. You might plant one or two more if you have several kids that like tomatoes. Then you might want a few plants that produce a good slicing tomato. You will find these distinctions clearly identified in your seed catalogs. Cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, paste tomatoes, tomatillos. One other thing about tomatoes. There are determinant and indeterminant species. Determinant plants will produce all of their tomatoes at once and stop producing. Indeterminant tomatoes produce over and over and over all summer. They also grow very large plants with lots of greenery and needs a couple of feet of space between them. Don’t be fooled by how small they are when they are first put in the ground. These are very large plants. Only grow paste tomatoes if you plan on trying your hand at making tomato sauce, salsa, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, bar-b-q sauce, etc.

Peppers

Peppers: Keep your choices down to a few. There are so many different kinds of peppers. And I must admit, they are very fun to grow. I love growing peppers. But what do you do with all of them? I grow lots of green bell peppers. At harvest time, I chop and freeze lots of them and use them throughout the winter and spring any time I need chopped peppers for a recipe. Hot peppers are a different story. Cayenne peppers can be threaded together and dried. They will last a very long time and it’s easy to reach up and grab a pepper and crush it into whatever dish you are creating. Jalapenos can be pickled. Last year I grew Pepperoncini and pickled those. Banana peppers are easy to grow. I also chop and freeze them when I get too many.

Lettuce

Lettuce: This is a tough one for me. There are just too many options here. If you are new to garden grown lettuce, you may need to do a lot of reading. In the grocery store you usually have access to ice berg lettuce (which no one that I know grow in their garden), large heads of romaine lettuce, and usually a green and/or red leaf lettuce. There are sealed packages of greens that are also available now that can give you a bit more of an idea of loose-leaf greens. All of these are available in your seed catalog. The romaine lettuces are usually smaller and yummier than the large heads you see in the grocery store. You know the ones that have that big white stem that you often cut out. Garden varieties will have smaller, leafier greens.

There is a variety of garden lettuce that I just love. It is called butter head. These are head lettuces but the heads are really quite small and very loose. Butter crunch lettuce is probably my absolute favorite lettuce to grow and eat.

Once you get to the loose-leaf lettuces, the variations are endless. These lettuces are sometimes called cut and come again. You cut most of the leaves off and leave the plant to grow more leaves. There are smooth leaf, ruffled leaf, curly leaf, red leaf, green leaf, purple leaf, and more. I gave up a long time ago trying to grow individual kinds and just opt for one of the salad blends.

Succession plant your lettuce. What I mean by that is you decide how much space you will use and then divide that up into four to six sections. Plant one section, wait a week to 10 days and plant again. Do that until all sections are planted. Like the first section will be producing about the time the last one just gets started. That will space out your lettuce over time so it does not overwhelm you all at once.

Beans

Beans: Our 3-foot by 8-foot raised beds require at least two packages of beans for a full planting. This is another place where you can try all sorts of beans just for the fun of it. And you may find you have a favorite that is simply not available at the local grocery where you a limited to green beans. There are purple beans – though they cook up green. Some are as long as 3-feet. I forget what those are called. I stuck with tried and true favorites with a few purple and yellow wax beans thrown in for fun.

Keep an eye out for “bush beans” and “pole beans”. I stick with bush beans. I have tried various methods of growing pole beans and always come back to the bush bean. Pole beans require support and they can climb ten feet or more. My mother had a really neat setup. Some day I may try it myself. She had a metal pole about ten feet sticking out of the ground. At the top my dad somehow mounted a bicycle wheel like a little flat top. Mom would tie string to the bicycle wheel and secure it in the ground with a tent stake. All the way around and when she was done it looked like a string teepee. She planted the pole beans at the tent stakes and those beans would climb right up those strings to the top and beyond.

Squash

Squash: again. Start with one zucchini, one yellow and perhaps one scallop. Winter squash is something else. Squash, melons, watermelon and pumpkins require lots of space. They will spread all over the place. For instance, in our raised bed system, I might have two to four plants in one bed. It will cover that bed, flow over the sides and into the walkways. I’ll keep moving the spreading vines back up onto the bed, but if it were only on the ground, I would just let it run all over. I can grow small pumpkins in the raised beds, but most pumpkins need at least a six-foot-by-six-foot area for each plant. Same with watermelon. These would be challenging for someone trying to container garden on their apartment balcony.

There really are too many options for me to cover in this short podcast. I hope I’ve given you some food for thought and if you have questions email me or contact me on our Locals page. That’s peacefulheartfarm.locals.com.

More Tips

Other things to consider. Think about buying open pollinated seeds as you can save them and not have to buy the next year. That is another learning curve for some things and you may not be ready for that, but consider it.

I talked about tomatoes, peppers, beans and squash because they are easy plants to start with. Seed saving is also relatively easy with these plants, though squash has a trick to it.

Once you see how to grow things you like and you’ve whittled down what you intend to grow into the future, then you can decide how much you think you need – and then you will need to double it if you plan to save food for the winter. You can always give it away to family or those in need if you over produce. Trust me, you will need more than you think if you plan to feed your family throughout the year.

I know I talked about starting seeds indoors in the last podcast, but buying plant starts instead of trying to start from seed is a great option when you are just getting started. It also gives you the freedom to select lots of varieties without buying a package of seeds just to try one plant variety.

That really is all I have time for and please visit our locals page and start a conversation to get more information. That’s peacefulheartfarm.locals.com.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s podcast. Let me know if I’m missing any animal updates. I didn’t get to the creamery today so I’ll give that special attention next week. Likely, we will have babies next time I do a podcast. That means spring is coming. And I just love this time of year.

I hope the gardening information is useful. Let me know if I can give you more information. There are likely many who listen that can also provide guidance over on the Locals platform.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please hop over to Apple Podcasts or whatever podcasting service you use, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review. If you like this content and want to help out the show, the absolute best way you can do that is to share it with any friends or family who might be interested in this type of content. Let them know about the Peaceful Heart Farmcast.

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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Seed-Starting Basics

Hello everybody. Melanie Hall, here. Hope you are doing well. The conversation today – and every day – revolves around the value of tradition; traditional homestead living, traditional raw milk products and artisan CHEESE. Topics discussed here are designed to create new perspectives and possibilities for how you might add the taste of tradition to your life.

Today, I’ll follow up on the basics of getting started with gardening with an intro to seed-starting indoors ahead of planting in the garden when the weather warms. But before we get to that, more homestead updates are in order. I’ll be talking about our beautiful livestock guardian dogs for the most part. There is so much to share about these fantastic dogs.

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. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Now, on to homestead updates.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

I have a bit of cow news that I’ll add at the end. Let’s talk about the dogs.

Our Livestock Guardian Dogs

We have added two new wonderful dogs to our homestead. I can’t tell you how ecstatic I am about these beasties, Finnigan (Finn for short) and Charlotte. We purchased them from a fellow vendor at the market who is scaling down and exiting their business. They were guarding chickens and turkeys. We don’t have these kinds of birds yet but we will at some point. It’s nice to know that we have dogs that have at least some experience with poultry. It can be hard for livestock guardian dogs to learn how to guard and not chase and chew on poultry.

Finn is ½ Great Pyrenees and ½ Anatolian Shepherd. He is a big baby. Loves to have his tummy rubbed. Follows us everywhere. We have had these guys since mid-October so they are still learning about us and the sheep.

They are kept exclusively with the sheep. At first, we had to hold Finn in a fenced area next to the sheep because he was chasing them all over the place. He has since proven he can be trusted to not run them to death and now resides with them and Charlotte. I have not seen much evidence that the dogs have bonded with the sheep. That will come in time. Right now, they are learning to love us and we definitely love them.

Charlotte

Charlotte is a Great Pyrenees. She is the most beautiful dog I have ever seen. Well maybe I’m biased. For whatever reason, she is very shy of humans. At first, I thought she had been mistreated. Lately though, I’m thinking she was not socialized to humans at an early age. She just has an innate mistrust of humans. She is not aggressive or anything. It’s just that we cannot walk up to her and pet her.

The first time I was able to pet her was when the vet was here for a general exam and heart worm tests. While the vet was working on Finn, Charlotte came over next to me and was kind of hiding behind me. I was able to pet her and hug her. Alas, it was only for the moment when she thought she needed protection and Finn was not only unavailable, but may have needed protection himself, in her mind.

Getting to Know Each Other

From the beginning, she would come up and quickly take a biscuit from my hand as long as I had Finn between us. I reached over his back and she would take the biscuit and run off to chomp on it. A few days ago, she started coming up without Finn between us. I still can’t just walk up to her but she has improved greatly in just a couple of months. Yesterday I was able to pet her and give her some love. She is tied on a lead at the moment and allowed me to walk up to her fairly easily. It is so satisfying to finally be able to love on her. For weeks and weeks, she held back and just watched Finn get petted and babied and loved. Now she is getting some of that.

She is scheduled to be spayed next week. We don’t like having her tied up, but she has escaped twice in the past couple of weeks. The Great Pyrenees breed is harder to contain than goats. Who knew? Well, I knew there was an issue with roaming with this breed. However, I had no idea they were so successful as escape artists. We have been so concerned that she will escape and get pregnant. I’ll be so glad when this escape artist is safe from pregnancy.

Finnigan (Finn)

Now let’s talk about Finn. That’s short for Finnigan. He is such a sweetie – as long as you are not the veterinarian. He does not like the vet. Yesterday, he showed her his teeth and growled relentlessly. Even with me standing there assuring him it was okay, he was in full protect mode. She is a brave vet and also quite familiar with working with livestock guardian dogs that are aggressive with her. We were able to get their vaccines done without much incident. I just had to be very careful to have him contained and tied before she approached. A quick stick in the rear and it was done.

Normally, we can introduce him to new people and he is fine with them. Though trusting him with someone new without us being very close is never allowed. He is very protective of us. And such a big baby when interacting with us. He loves to lay down on the ground belly up, begging for a rub. Brushing and combing him is also something he enjoys.

Escaping

We love both of these animals, but they have been causing us grief when they escape. I mentioned Charlotte escaping. She is the leader in that regard. Once she makes it out, she has shown him the way. For the most part, he is the leader. Only in creating the escape path does she lead.

The first time they escaped, she returned home sometime overnight. Finn was found about 5 or 6 miles away. He was hanging out around a local farmer’s barn. After a few hours, the farmer ventured close enough to read his collar. We have a large yellow tag on all of our dogs that has our farm name and phone number plainly displayed. Finn allowed him close and he got our phone number. I was so relived to get that call. He was missing nearly 24 hours. We had Facebook messages posted to our friends.

The local radio station also broadcast it. We know this because the second time they escaped, another local farmer, only a quarter mile away this time, remembered hearing it on the radio and gave us a call. They were only gone for a couple of hours that time and Scott walked them home on a leash. Unfortunately for Charlotte, we were done with worrying ourselves over them. She is secured until her surgery next week.

Mack

We have one other dog, Mack. He is now comfortably bonded with the cows and calves. We started him with the sheep, but he also chased them. Mack is just over 2-years-old and still exhibits puppy behavior from time-to-time. As we knew the other two dogs were coming, we decided to try and get him bonded with the cows and save the intense sheep training for the older dogs – Finn and Charlotte.

He was fairly easy to acclimate with our cows. We started with a few calves from this year and then added the yearlings. Once he got comfortable with all of them, we added the three new heifers I talked about in the last podcast. And finally, all of the big girls were added to the mix. He is very comfortable with his new charges and takes his responsibilities quite seriously. When we are looking for him, we simply find out where the cows are hanging out and he is sure to be close by.

Mack is also a sweetheart and also a loaner. He is very comfortable on his own. Where Finn and Charlotte want more attention, he is fine with seeing us once a day with his food and some petting. He was born and raised with sheep and is used to being completely on his own. The only issue we have with him is his coat mats so easily. At this point, he is matted all over and will likely need some serious trimming in the spring. After consulting with the vet, it looks like he will likely get a spring trim every year. We can comb him out regularly, but he is still going to get mats that will need to be cut out. It’s just the nature of his coat. The fine undercoat is very similar to that of our cashmere goats. It is so fine, that rolling it between your fingers makes it instantly matted.

We love him very much and he is definitely worth this extra effort. Let’s talk about the sheep.

Sheep

I briefly mentioned the dogs being in with the sheep. Did I mention in a previous podcast that we had replaced some of our sheep? I can’t remember. Anyway, we purchased registered stock from a local farmer and now have five breeding ewes, one breeding ram and a whether that will go to market soon.

When the Finn and Charlotte first arrived, they were both in a separate pen next to the sheep. The new sheep, who had been raised around dogs, would lay down just outside their fence. Then we put the dogs in with the sheep and all of that changed. Finn chased them and the veterans who had already been chased multiple times by stray dogs showed the new girls and guy how to hide in the woods. Even after putting Finn back in the separate pen, they pretty much kept their distance from the dogs. That was a small step backward.

Dogs are Okay

In an attempt to get the dogs to attach to the sheep and to get the sheep to overcome their fear of the dogs, we began feeding the sheep a little treat each evening. This seemed to work. Number one, Finn saw that we care for them and does not chase them anymore. The sheep were still very standoffish at first and would watch every move that Finn made. In the evening we let him lose in the field. We would supervise him either on a leash or let him run freely and watch him closely. After a few times of getting their special treats, the sheep no longer warily watched Finn’s every move. In fact, they come right up to where he is to get their food. They are jostling around with each other trying to get their head in the feed trough. We feed both the dogs and sheep within a few feet of each other. The sheep have now become so friendly that we can actually touch them a little bit while they eat. Once they are done eating, they still go back to the woods. But they are calm about it and do not stand up with their ears pricked forward listening for the evil beastie. They will calmly lay down and chew their cud.

They are all together now. During the day, I can see both of the dogs sleeping in the field and the sheep wandering around and grazing. The day I am looking for is the one where the sheep let the dogs lay down next to them. I plan on keeping them close where I can watch everything until well after the lambs are born in the spring. That may be a great challenge for the dogs. New animals and blood and afterbirth and so on. Hopefully, they will see the new lambs need to be protected and not eaten. That’s a worry for another day. God gives us each day in its turn. Right now, we are happy with how things are progressing.

Creamery

I cannot tell you how many hours and hours of work Scott has put in on material lists. Prices for construction materials are skyrocketing so we are trying to buy all materials now, though it may be months before they are installed. Ceiling panels for the milking parlor are the same material as the roof. Quotes showed now double the price. Scott did get a price break and got it down to perhaps 1 ½ times the price he paid last year. That has been delivered.

Meetings with the power company and propane gas representatives have been accomplished and orders placed for materials. Electrical wiring and conduit and all the bits and pieces for that project have been ordered. I believe Scott is still chasing down some of those parts – again availability is an issue for some things. He might even have gotten the flooring materials ordered. Are you starting to get the picture of how much time he has spent thinking and thinking and calculating and thinking and calculating some more in order to accomplish this monumental task?

The plumbing is going to be contracted out. We shall see what the estimates are for that bit of work. I don’t know what his plans are about whether the commercial kitchen will be plumbed and outfitted at this time. We are just ready to get this project completed and to get started selling our cheese to the public. The fifth year of construction just began. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Starting Plants Indoors

Following up on the last podcast where I talked about getting the soil ready and improving it over the years, I want to touch on what it takes to start plants indoors. The goal is to get them large enough and healthy enough to plant out in the garden when the ground temperature has reached the proper level.

The first step is calculating when to start them. Some plants require six weeks of growth and others eight weeks or more. For instance, tomatoes and peppers are on the eight weeks side of that calculation and summer squash and melons hang around closer to the six weeks mark. If want to venture into celery, that may require as many as 12 weeks of indoor growth along with repotting and so on. Perhaps save that for after you have a year or two of success with other plants. I do recommend getting to the point of growing your own celery. It’s not commonly grown but it is so good. That tasteless stuff purchased from your local grocery store will fall by the wayside once you know how to grow your own.

To recap, read the descriptions on what you plan to grow. They will clearly state how many weeks ahead of last frost date to start your plants. Last frost date is determined by where you live in the US. It is divided into “zones” with zone one being the farthest north and zone 8 and 9 are way down in Florida. Here in southwestern Virginia, we are in Zone 7A. Just a few miles from us, the elevation is significantly higher and those living up the mountain are firmly in Zone 6. For Zone 7, the last frost date is April 15th. For Zone 6, I believe it is May 1st. Not sure on that as it is not my zone. Look up USDA planting zones to find out where you fall in the schemes of things.

USDA Zones

Once you have your USDA zone identified, you have your first and last frost dates. And let me be clear on this. When they say last and/or first frost dates, what they are referring to is the approximate date when the chance of frost is 50%. You can have a last frost after the official date, which can be devastating to whatever you have already planted outside. Same for first frost date in the fall. You can have plants still out in the garden that you hope to harvest before the first frost comes. It can come earlier than expected and ruin your fall harvest.

Now that you have all of that straight, you will count back from your last frost date the number of weeks recommended to grow your indoor seedlings. I usually transplant my tomatoes out into the garden two weeks after the expected last frost date. That is around the 1st week of May. I count back eight weeks from the first of May and that will be when I want my tomato plants to be started. Check your package instructions. No matter the plant, it is generally clearly stated when is the best time to plant outside and how many weeks to grow the plants indoors prior to transplanting outside. Post on Locals if you have questions.

Seed Starting Mix

Purchase good organic seed starting mix. There are all kinds of bags of potting mix and planting mix and garden soil and so on at your local Big Box stores and even more choices on line. You are looking specifically for “seed starting mix”. Jiffy and Miracle Grow are popular organic brands. There are others. Just make sure it is seed starting mix.

Decide how many tomato, pepper, lettuce, squash, etc plants that you plan on growing in your garden. I try to start that many seeds for each item plus 25%. So, if I want four tomato plants, I start five or maybe even six. It’s nature. Not all seeds will sprout and some plants may be obviously weak. Strong plants are important. Once you know how many of each plant you intend to start from seed, you will have a better idea of how many containers you need.

Filling Containers

For planting containers, I use the 6-cell seed starting trays. They are about an inch and a half square and about two inches deep. It is beneficial to also have purchased plant trays that hold the 6-cell containers. These all come in standard sizes. The standard tray will hold 12 of the 6-cell containers. That’s 72 plants in one tray. There are other sizes of pots you can buy, but this is my choice for starting from seed. Once the seeds have reached a larger size, I transplant them into 2” x 2” containers. Each of the standard sized trays will hold 32 of the 2” x 2” pots. Additionally, you will want those clear plastic covers. Sometimes they come with the tray and sometimes you need to purchase them separately. You will need them.  

You have a couple of choices about filling your containers. There is the option to fill each cell with dry mix and add water or another option is to wet the seed starting mix first and fill the cells with damp soil. I’ll leave that to you. I like to fill it dry and add water after. In either case, give yourself time to do this right. It takes some time for the seed starting mix to absorb the water. You want it just damp enough to clump together but not soggy. When wetting it ahead of time, don’t get in a hurry. Add a good amount of water and wait for it to incorporate fully before adding more. Keep it up until you reach the consistency you desire. If adding water after the fact, I use a two-step method. I wet from the top and then add water to the tray. The dry mix will pull the water up from the bottom. You’ll want to get good at adding water to the tray. It is the preferred method of adding water once your plants have sprouted. More on that later.

Planting the Seeds

Once you have the soil in the containers and dampened, you are ready to add the seeds. Many seeds are tiny and it is hard to get just one or two in the cell. Don’t worry about it. If you have several that sprout, you can thin them out by pulling the weakest sprouts out and focusing on the strongest for each cell. Tiny seeds can be laid on the surface and then sprinkled with a little dry soil. With a spray-mister you can dampen this additional layer after you have filled all the trays. I plant larger seeds by making an indentation in the seed mix with a pencil or small stick, placing the seed or seeds and gently moving the dampened soil over the seed.

The rule of thumb is that seeds are planted at a depth equal to their diameter. Lettuce seeds are laid on top of the soil. I use the pencil idea for tomatoes and peppers. Cilantro is planted a little deeper as the seed is even larger than the tomato seed. Each seed has just enough energy within it to push above the soil and begin to get sunlight. If a seed is planted too deep, it will run out of energy before reaching the surface. If planted too shallow, its roots may not get a good grip on the soil which makes a weak plant. Planting too deep has always been a bigger problem for me. I can always add soil if a seed sprouts on the surface.

Cover, Wait, then Fertilize

Once you have all of your precious seeds nestled into the potting mix, you will want to cover that tray with the plastic cover. This keeps the moisture high. Now we wait. I’ve had seeds sprout within days that the package said would take 7 to 10 days. You just never know. Check daily. Some seeds require 2 weeks or more to sprout. Do not give up too early. Once the seeds sprout, take the plastic covers off. You want to let the air circulate. Molds can kill off your seedlings overnight.

Once your seedlings have their first set of real leaves, it’s time to fertilize. There is usually a pair of initial leaves that sprout. They are generally roundish. After a day or two, a second set of leave will sprout that are usually shaped differently, more in line with a full-grown leaf of the plant. Look for leaves three and four coming up out of the center. You will see what I mean. To fertilize, I use fish emulsion in a spray mister. My particular mister model has a stream setting. I mix the fish emulsion and spray right at the base of the stem. Just one or two squirts is plenty. This fertilization is important at this stage. Do not leave out this step.

Light and Water

Now you are cooking. Keep lights on your plants 12 to 14 hours. Water about once per week. Don’t let the seeding starting mix completely dry out. Don’t make it too wet. Remember the mold. I like to water from the bottom as it encourages the roots to reach down for the water. It’s also easier than trying to spray-mist those delicate seedlings when they first sprout. It’s so easy to just drown them with even the smallest of squirts.

Okay, that will get you started. I’m going to put together a more comprehensive list of materials and such to help with the planning stages as this was more focused on the actual planting. You will find that information at peacefulheartfarm.locals.com.  

Final Thoughts

And we are done for this podcast. I still have lots more updates on the homestead to share. I hope you enjoyed the update on the livestock guardian dogs. I never thought I would love dogs so much. But I truly enjoy these wonderful animals. I was so worried I would be a really bad dog owner, not knowing anything about raising dogs. As per our usual, we read a lot, asked lots of questions and found that it was not as hard as I thought. Oh, for sure, there are challenges we are facing, but I feel up to the task. The vet has helped tremendously. I can always ask the expert if I ever have any doubts.

It’s not quite time to get started with the garden yet, and I hope this podcast topic is just in time to get you in the mood for the planning parts. We will start around the end of March, perhaps a little earlier. We shall see. It all depends on what I decide on for the garden this year.

I hope you will check out our Locals page. Again, that’s peacefulheartfarm.locals.com. You can support us there either financially or just by visiting us and sharing this post on your social media pages.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please, SUBSCRIBE on your favorite platform and remember to give us a 5-star rating and review. Reviews are important to expand our reach. If you like this content and want to help out the show, the absolute best way you can do that is to share it with any friends or family who might be interested in this type of content. Let them know about the Peaceful Heart Farmcast.

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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New Year, New Projects

I’m back, finally with a new year, new projects. Hope you are doing well. I hope you had wonderful Christmas and New Year celebrations with your families and friends. It has been four months since I’ve talked with you all. It takes a great deal of time, energy and money to make this podcast happen. More on how you can support us later in the podcast. For right now I want to say how much I appreciate all of you. I’m putting forth the effort to get back on track and to once again interact with all of you. I’ve been slacking and you deserve more from me. We’ve all been lonely and isolated these past two years. I intend to bring a little bit of love and light into each of your lives.

I’ve always talked about tradition and the value of tradition. From summer 2021 into winter 2022, I’ve come to appreciate God and our Lord Jesus Christ in a deeper fashion. Probably none of you know that I am Catholic. If you do know that, it will probably not surprise you that I attend the Traditional Latin Mass. It’s just another place that tradition permeates my life. I’ll continue to talk about traditional homestead living and our traditional raw milk products and artisan cheese. But don’t be surprised if you hear more exclamations like glory to God or praise God or praise Jesus. We all need more reminders that we are loved.

Locals

I’ve started a Locals community. It’s a place where we can come together and talk about whatever we want. There is no censorship. Think along the lines of a Facebook Group page. Everyone is posting, commenting and supporting one another. There is no cost to become a member and get access to these podcasts as well as select other content. Pictures of the animals I talk about. Maybe even some short videos.

In order to support me and this podcast, I’m looking for people to become paid subscribers. The biggest advantage you have in becoming a paid subscriber is that because there is a little bit of financial investment, there are no trolls. Should someone be willing to paying the minimal monthly fee only to come in an harass our community, I can remove them. We have complete autonomy within our community. And no one is going to collect your data and sell it for advertising. That’s not what Locals is about. In fact, it is designed to free us from that intrusion into our personal lives by technical oligarchs getting rich from our love for each other. I urge you to check it out. Support this podcast by becoming a paid subscriber – or just enjoy the free stuff. That’s perfectly fine too.

I’m considering starting a subscription-only group of followers over on the Locals platform for those that are looking for more faith in their daily lives. Whether you have your own homestead, dream of having one or are perfectly satisfied living the suburbs and purchasing food from your local farmer, faith plays a part in all our lives. And definitely let me know if you are interested in participating in religious conversation in an interactive way on the Locals platform. I’m still trying to figure out how the plat form will allow me to separate this content from the rest. Sort of like how to make a playlist for specific content topics.

Again, to support the show, become a paid subscriber. Again, it’s not required. However, when I make a post, a paid subscriber (which is $5 per month) can do more than comment. You can make your own post on the topic or post o a topic of your choice to start a conversation. Other paid subscribers can comment on your posts and/or mine. It is a community. Enough of all that. Check it out and let me know what you think. If you have trouble figuring out what you need to do, email me (at email address).

Let’s get on with the podcast.

Appreciation for All of You

It has been about four months since I’ve talked with you all. There is so much that has happened I can’t possibly just pick up where I left off last fall and go forward. Nope, I’m just going to start from where we are and go from there. If there is something I’ve talked about in a previous episode that is still hanging in the air that you need an update on, just let me know in an email. Messaging is also available on Locals for paid subscribers and free on our Facebook page. Just type in Peaceful Heart Farm in either platform and we should pop right up. 

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

It’s 2022. Scott is healing well. I’m still a little unsettled but on the upswing at the moment. There is so much going on I hardly know where to begin. As usual, the cows are the stars. But keep listening. I can only do so much in one podcast. While today may be dedicated to the cows, I’ve got some wonderful dog and sheep tales to tell. I’m going to keep to the cows in this podcast and expand to the others animals as I go along so you can all catch up with the homestead’s evolution.

Additionally, I’m going to start a series on developing your own food production system. Today I will begin with the basics of gardening. But first, the cows.

Cows

If you are a veteran listener, you already know about our girls. For the newbies, here is a rundown of our Normande and Jersey girls.

Claire and Buttercup are the oldest Normande girls. They were the original stock we purchased way back in 2011. From the moment we purchased this breed, I fell in love. They are the gentlest cows I have ever had the pleasure of husbanding. If you haven’t ever heard of this breed, check out our Locals page or our Facebook page. You will be able to see pictures of these beauties. Their coloring is unique.

The two matriarchs are now 12 and 11 years old respectively. Cows can go up to 15 to 20 years depending on the breed. But this is likely Claire’s last calf before she retires. She has had consistent issues with mastitis and now produces only enough milk to feed her calf. To be a viable business, we need more than that. It has been fine over the past years because we were not fully operational as a dairy, but that is coming to an end this year. At least we hope so, barring any further unforeseen medical issues or some other catastrophe. And, according to the vet, Buttercup has gotten too fat to conceive easily. She has not taken this year or last year. That means early retirement for her as well. Who knew that we had such healthy and abundant grass? But she is not even giving us a yearly calf. It’s just money down the drain because the girl can chow down on some grass and hay. We love our original girls and it will be hard letting them go.

Violet and Cloud came to the homestead next. Cloud is a year older than Violet but she is also slated for replacement. Cloud is ¾ Normande and has never been an ideal cow for milking. I don’t recall why we purchased her. Perhaps because she was bred at the time and Claire, back at home, was not. Anyway, she is a lovely cow but does not fit our dairy operation.

While Violet has been a bit of a problem, we will get her back on track next year. Last time she was bred, she didn’t deliver until June. That’s the exact time that we are breeding again for calves to be born the next spring in March and April. Cows have a nine-month gestation period just like humans. Because she delivered so late in the year, she is out of the rotation for breeding this time around. We expect her to be fine for next year. She’s a great mom, a moderate milk producer, and she produces beautiful calves. That’s it for the older girls.

I’m going to throw in here a short saga of how we came to purchase Jerseys which I will get to in a minute. They are next on the list of cows added to the homestead.

Some years back, we ran into a drought situation. I’m thinking it was around 2014 or 2015. We had lots of cows, calves and about 70 sheep. No rain for an extended period of time and all of sudden the pastures were gone. Pastures are the lifeblood of our operation. We aren’t animal farmers so much as grass farmers. We acted quickly. We sold all of our steers and heifers as well as most of the sheep. We dropped the sheep count to six, one ram and five ewes. I don’t recall how the number of cows that we kept. I’m thinking about 5 or 6. Claire, Buttercup, Cloud, Violet, Lilly (who is gone now) and Dora (who died a few years ago following a premature delivery and infection). So that is six. The pastures began to recover now that there weren’t so many animals eating it down.

The next year after the drought, we sold all the calves again and the pastures recovered. Following that recovery, we seemed to have had nothing but bull calves. So here we are in need of cows that we can milk. We also culled one cow, Lilly, that we probably should have kept. Two years in a row she didn’t conceive so we culled her. Later we found out that we probably could have treated her and she would have been fine. These are learning experiences that we will share with you as we talk more about raising your own food. And then Dora died nearly three years ago. She had some kind of infection and delivered about two weeks early. The vet saved her calf and treated her as best she could, but did not give us a favorable prognosis. Dora died three days later. At that point we were reduced to only four milk cows. So, bring on the Jerseys.

Jerseys

About 3 or 4 years ago, we purchased a registered A2A2 Jersey heifer. A fellow vendor at the farmer’s market was getting out of the herd share business (that’s the legal way to provide raw milk to families in Virginia) and asked if we were interested in picking up the slack. We purchased Butter from her to supply the extra need for milk. That’s how our herd share operation got started.

The next learning experience was artificial insemination. We had also sold our herd bull somewhere along the way. Our first AI experience produced a shortage of cows having calves and freshening with milk. In short, even with Butter producing her wonderful abundance of Jersey milk, we did not have enough milk for our herd shares and cheesemaking.

In comes Rosie. Rosie was also a registered Jersey A2A2 heifer. I was skeptical, but Scott said he had a good feeling and we made the leap of faith. Rosie was bred when she was just nine months old. That’s equivalent to a young teen pregnancy. She was scheduled to give birth at 18 months. That is a whopping six months too young in conventional wisdom. But again, Scott had a good feeling about it and she produced a beautiful heifer calf. So now we have three registered Jersey cows/calves. It was beginning to look like the herd was shifting to another breed. But Au contrare. I’m not putting up with that. We want the center or our operation to be Normande cows.

Wisconsin

Being aware of our continued shortage of heifers, we have been on the lookout for replacement stock for a couple of years. Normande cows and heifers are not easy to find in this area of the country. This fall, we finally bit the bullet and Scott drove all the way to Wisconsin to pick up three new heifers. (By the way, for newbies, a heifer is a female bovine animal that has not yet had a calf. She doesn’t graduate to officially being a cow until she has successfully delivered her first calf.) Anyway, Scott and “almost son-in-law” left for Wisconsin around 11:00 pm on a Saturday night. They drove through the night and arrived Sunday evening nearby to the target farm with just time enough to have a nice dinner and get a good night’s sleep at a local hotel. The next morning, they arrived at the Wisconsin farm and were loaded up in ½ an hour. It’s now Monday morning about 8:00. The return trip took almost 24 hours. Yes, it was Tuesday morning around 7:30 before they got home and unloaded our new girls.

Our New Girls

It’s time to meet Wanda, Ginger and Molly. For our cheese operation we need specific genetics to make the best cheese possible. These girls have it. Genetically they are all A2A2 with the BB kappa casein protein. Wanda and Ginger are percentage Normande. At 75% Normande and 25% Guernsey/Milking Short Horn, their calves will be considered pure bred Normande when adding in a pure-bred French bull. We like the 25% being milking genetics. Another issue with getting Normande cattle is so many of the large breeders are breeding for meat. We will still get decent meat production from our steers, even with milking genetics. But we need good udders and sufficient milk production to be a profitable dairy and cheesemaking operation. So, these girls fit the bill perfectly for everything we were looking for in breeding stock.

Wanda and Ginger are mostly Normande. Molly is quite beautiful, but she is 75% Jersey. Again, good milking genetics. She will be bred later this year along with everyone else and we will use full blood Normande semen. Her calves will be 62 or 63% Normande. Those calves will be registered and then bred again to a different full blood Normande bull and that offspring will be 82% Normande and considered pure bred. And the percentage continues to go up from there. Sometimes the only way to get what you are looking for is to breed it yourself. Another trip to Wisconsin is just not what we want. Molly had the genetics and could be quickly useful in adding Normande genetics to our herd. And did I mention how beautiful she is?

Breeding for Genetics

The bull semen we purchased also has the proper genetics. A2A2 and BB kappa casein protein. All of the offspring from these new heifers will have the proper genetics. I guess I left out the piece that none of the current cows had the complete set of proper genetics. Butter, Claire and Buttercup have the A2A2 genetics. Violet is A1A2 but has the BB kappa casein trait. We have one other heifer who will have her first calf this year. Luna is out of Cloud. Cloud is also A1A2 and she does not have the bb kappa casein trait. Again, she is a wonderful cow that we used as a nurse cow, but we really need the proper genetics and we only have so much land to raise these animals. Those that don’t fit the bill need to go somewhere else.

Luna’s test has been sent off but we do not have the results yet. She has very strong Angus genetics and I am not hopeful that she has what we need. It shows in her coloring. Likely she will not actually produce milk in the quantities we are looking for in a cow. On the upside, she will make someone a great family cow and we will sell her as such next year or later this year. Likely her production will produce just enough milk for a family looking to provide milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter for themselves and their children. She will also produce beautiful calves that can be raised for beef. It’s a win-win for a family.

So, to wrap that up. We are culling our three oldest cows for one reason or another and replacing them with these wonderful new heifers. Going forward we are looking to grow the herd with the proper genetics.

Quail

Just a brief word on the quail. I have no idea where I left off with them. Their actual number at this time is even a mystery to me. We had one last batch hatched out in September. It was a poor hatch rate. I was trying to refresh our genetics but it was a little late in the year for hatching quail.

These newbies went into the upper left penthouse to finish growing. All of the roosters had been cleared out of the other cages. I was looking for new roosters from this last hatching. When they were big enough, I took roosters out of that penthouse and put them in with the girls in the other four cages. One got mauled and died, but the rest are doing fine as best I can tell. We also lost one or two hens that just up and died. It is not an unusual occurrence. You go out there one day and one of them is just cold and lifeless. I’m not so attached to the quail as to the cows, sheep and dogs, so I don’t lose much sleep over this.

Anyway, they are doing well. I feed them once a day but need to refresh their water usually twice a day if it is freezing outside. We usually get anywhere from 24 to 30 eggs. Although yesterday I got a grand total of six after a really cold couple of days. I have lots of quail eggs and we just started giving the dogs and occasional quail egg treat. They loved them.

Dairy Parlor and Creamery

Scott was temporarily out of commission over the past six months or so due to his cancer treatment but he is back on track now. He takes all of the cow girls through the dairy barn area a couple of times a week. It’s important for them to get used to the routine there. Right now, he just lets them mill about and get used to everything there. In the future he will move them around inside the parlor and get them used to going where he wants them to go. But getting them familiar is the first step. Cows are very wary of anything new or different. Once they have been there a few times and found that nothing actually happens, it’s time to move to the next step.

As far as the building aspect of the creamery, the electrical wiring is the next step. On the drive home from Sunday Mass, we often talk about plans. Scott told me yesterday that he only needs to get the milking parlor, milk room and cheese make room up and operational to get us inspected. After that, he will gradually put together everything else. The bathroom, the large cheese cave and the kitchen. It is important that we get to a point where we can pass USDA inspection so that we can actually begin making money. This has been a long project, has cost us a lot more money that either of us ever expected and with the medical bills, it’s time to get some cash flow coming our way, God willing. I love selling meat, sauces, and jams at the smaller farmer’s markets but look forward to selling much larger quantities of cheese to local restaurants and wineries.

Garden Planning

If you are one of those that is getting more and more interested in growing more of your own food, this next part is just for you. I’m going to lay out, to the best of my ability, some thoughts and actions that you can take to start growing more of your own food. We’ll start with gardening and later add growing various meat products and processing them.

Raised Beds or No Raised Beds

From large plots of land that contain acres down to a few containers on your balcony, everyone can do something to grow their own food. With the current supply chain disruption, this becomes more and more important for simply feeding your family.

Let’s start with what kind of gardening you will be doing. I’ll stick to what I know and offer a few additional notes as I go for ideas on how you might modify my ideas to fit your particular situation.

I prefer the raised beds. They are not required. You can even begin in containers on your balcony if you live in an apartment. There is always a little bit that can be done. Of course, sowing your seeds directly into the ground is an age-old method of gardening. In any case, what becomes most important is the soil. Let me go over what to expect in that regard.

I’m assuming that you have not done any vegetable gardening up to this point. Or perhaps you did a little and gave up because it just wasn’t working out. You decided you had a brown thumb. Well perhaps you just need a little more information to be successful. And keep in mind that it is a process. The soil will need to be worked and maintained throughout every single year of gardening. As each year passes, the soil improves.

Container Gardening Soil

First let me address container gardening. This may be the one instance where the soil is nearly perfect from the start. Don’t use garden soil. Use a potting mix. You can’t till or work the soil very well in a container. Therefore, you need soil that will be loose and retain water. There are several organic fertilizers that you can use to amend the potting mix depending on what happens with your plants. We will get to that later. Right now, we are trying to create the environment where seeds will sprout and plant starts will take hold. For container gardening I recommend using potting soil as it comes complete with vermiculite to keep the soil from compacting and to help with holding water. Every one I have seen also comes with fertilizer included. Let me know if you have any questions about this. I’ll put a more detailed description and explanation on Locals.

Raised Bed Garden Soil

Because you are using a specific sized area to garden, often it is not too expensive to fill your beds with organic soil. It depends on how many beds you want to create and how high you make the sides of your raised beds.

In our case, the raised beds are 24” from the ground. Scott stacked cinder blocks 3-high. They are 8 inches each so that is 24” from the ground. Next, he put in lots of old chunks of wood. This serves two purposes. It fills in a lot of the space that would otherwise need to have some kind of soil and it also provides a longer-term source of fertilizer. The tree chunks eventually break down and create nutrients in the soil.

Next, he added any kind of soil that he could scrape up from around the farm. We have several piles of dirt that were scraped up when some trees were being cleared. He filled each bed to within four to six inches of the top.

The last few inches, contained organic material from other places around the homestead. When the cows are eating hay in the winter, they all gather around the bale and eat to their heart’s content. Out their other end, the fertilizer is deposited on the hay that has been pushed out of the hay ring. While going to and fro to the hay ring, they tread on this mess of hay, poop and pee and mash it up into a great big pile of soon-to-be composted material. Each year, Scott moves the hay rings around to other locations. That spreads out the mess – I mean compost. At any given time, he can go out there where a hay bale was a year or two earlier and just dig up that black gold and put it on the garden. He scoops it up in the tractor bucket and brings it over to the garden.

Every year, new composted material needs to be added to the soil. After about three years or so, the soil will be getting really, really good. But don’t expect too much from the first year or two, even if you purchased the most expensive compost you could find. It takes time for the soil to settle down and begin to create all the little bugs, bacteria and such that are necessary for really fertile soil. The longer you work a particular piece of earth, the better is gets. That is, if you are continually amending the soil.

Till the Earth

If you’ve got the time, the energy, and the space, you can till up the soil and plant directly into the ground. This method takes the longest to start to produce a crop that will fully meet your expectations. Start with a few inches of compost on top – and it will take a lot of compost for even a ¼ acre. Every year, add another layer of compost on top. That, combined with regular fertilization during the growing season is the way to creating the perfect soil.

That’s about all I have time for in this podcast. These were just the briefest descriptions of what it takes to get started in gardening. Look for more information on our Locals.com community.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s podcast. It’s so good to be back with you. Again, I hope you all had a wonderful and blessed Christmas and are experiencing a joyous New year. We had friends and family over and had a wonderful time. I hope you did as well.

We continue to move forward with our homestead plans. The updates on the cows are just the beginning. There is so much more with the sheep and our beautiful livestock guardian dogs. Look for more on that in the next podcast.

I hope you enjoyed the garden planning topic and if you have questions, check out our Locals.com community for more information.

The Locals platform is where we can come together as a community. I will be posting these podcasts there as well as other content that might have previously gone to Facebook or Instagram. You will need to be a subscriber to be able to comment and post. Subscriptions can be as little as $5 per month. For premium subscribers it is $25 per month. That gives you access to me via direct message on the Locals platform. I truly appreciate any and all support that you give to this podcast and to the traditional life.

If you like this content and want to help out the show, the absolute best way you can do that is to share it with any friends or family who might be interested in this type of content. Let them know about the Peaceful Heart Farmcast.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please hop over to Apple Podcasts or whatever podcasting service you use, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review.

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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Homestead Update and Health Update

It has been a while so how about a homestead update and health update. I republished a couple of podcasts. I hope you got a chance to listen for the first time or relisten if you were interested in the topic of cheese.

It’s going to be close, but I think I can get this podcast published today. Let’s hope all goes well and I am able to accomplish it. If it doesn’t, I am likely to abandon the effort for another week. My life is topsy-turvy and I only have so much time each day to take care of any given task. When things don’t go well, they get pushed to the next day. It’s my method of reducing stress. Let’s pause a moment.

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. Thank you for hanging in there with me. I appreciate you all so much. Let’s have a homestead update and then a little info on the status of our health here at Peaceful Heart Farm

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

The cows are coming up first.

Cows

Last night at about 9:15 we got a call from the neighbors across the street. Two of our cows were in their yard. Who could they be? There were two groups of cows with two animals. I knew it was most likely the two that were scheduled for freezer camp this morning. Sure enough, those two guys were out there wreaking havoc in the neighbor’s yard and trying to get into the pasture with their cows.

It was a little harrowing to be trying to work with two very large boys in the dark. However, all of our cows are fairly docile. They were upset and confused of course. I believe that I’ve mentioned before that a cow does not like anything out of the ordinary. They want things to be the same all the time. Routine, routine, routine. So needless to say, everything about this situation was out of the ordinary.

Perrin is Secured

Nearby, just 20 or 30 feet down the driveway, was a gate to a paddock. Scott opened that gate and Perrin almost immediately went inside. Rocketman was a different story. He went back and forth in front of that gate at least three or four times, never venturing inside. Finally, he started down the driveway and Scott herded him that way and away from the neighbor’s cows. I followed with the car. Of course, once we got him down the driveway the next challenge was finding a way to get him into a pasture.

Scott chased him up and down one fence a couple of times. I opened up a couple of gates. One was a gate back to where he escaped. The other was into the field with our nursery girls. It was a little risky letting him in there, but we needed some way to get him into some fence somewhere. Once he was back inside our perimeter fence, there were many options as to how to move forward.

Rocketman is Secured

Rocketman eagerly went through the very wide-open gate into the pasture with the girls. The girls themselves were way out in the field. We needed to get him contained before he joined with them. That would be a disaster if we had to single him out from that crowd in the dark. Scott quickly contained the girls in paddock number one. Perrin was in paddock number two. And Rocketman was in the travel lane that joins with all paddocks.

The goal was to isolate both boys in the small holding area just inside the gate I opened for Rocketman. He had already walked most of the way down the travel lane toward the other paddocks. Scott met him coming the other way while herding Perrin down the travel lane toward the holding area. I was over in paddock number four which runs directly alongside the travel lane. I wanted to be close but not in the travel lane. That would have just confused everything and possibly herded them back out into the field in an attempt to get away from me.

Chasing Cows Around Paddock Four

Now for the next debacle. There are two gates at the bottom of a hollow. One opens into paddock four where I am and one opens or closes the travel lane where Scott and the boys are walking. I’m a little way up the hill in paddock four, just monitoring how they are moving. Everything looks Ok. Scott is coming down the travel lane headed toward the holding area. I just happened to mention that the gate into paddock four is open and they might come in there instead of continuing up the hill into the holding area. And you know what? That is exactly what they did. Now we are reduced to chasing them around paddock four, still trying to get them to go back through the gate and up to the small holding area.

All Ends Well

At some point I went down and closed the gate to the travel lane. No sense in letting them run back up that way. Now all we needed to do is get them to go through the other open gate out of paddock four and into the holding area. Somewhere along the way in this process, I noticed that part of the problem we were having is that they would go wherever the light was shining. Our headlamps and flashlights were actually confusing them. As Scott brought them back down the hill for the third or fourth time, I had just finished latching that travel lane gate. I shined my flashlight in the exact place I wanted them to go. It worked. Right through the gate they went. The travel lane gate was closed and now the gate into paddock four could be closed.

Whew what a trip. It lasted about 45 minutes. Shortly after 10 o’clock we were back inside and grateful for it.

The Girls

The girls continued to happily exist up in paddock number one until the next morning. After loading the boys into the trailer, he opened the paddock gate allowing the girls access to the pond for water and cooling baths.

Last week we had our vet and AI tech out checking to see who is and is not pregnant. There was good news and bad news. Three are pregnant and three are not. We are going to roll with that for the spring.

Buttercup

The vet gave us health information on the entire herd. Buttercup did not conceive. This is two years in a row. The vet talked to us about her weight. Too much fat is not a good thing, especially in an aging cow. I won’t go into the details, but her opinion was that, not only had she not conceived, but it was going to be harder and harder for her to conceive as she ages more. She will need to be replaced.

Cloud

Cloud was pregnant but miscarried. The vet was not too concerned about this. A late term spontaneous abortion would be a different story. But aborting early in the process is not so uncommon. We decided against trying to start over with any of our girls. Cloud is also marked to be replaced. Not because of her miscarriage, but because she kicks so much that we cannot milk her. Due to her strong angus genetics, she is also not really ideal as a milk cow. She simply does not produce as much milk as the others. Not by a long shot.

Claire

Claire appears to be pregnant but the vet could not 100% confirm it. She did mark her as pregnant but noted that she could not move the uterus to a position where she could know for sure. However, the fact that she could not move it was a good indication that Claire is pregnant. We shall see. Claire is also marked for replacement as she is getting on in years and is prone to mastitis. Her udder is in bad shape. She produces enough milk for her calf and not much more.

Luna

Now on to one we will keep for a little while, though we may offer her up to anyone looking for a family cow. Luna is pregnant. She is a heifer which means this will be her first calf. We do not expect her to produce lots and lots and lots of milk. Her mom is Cloud and Luna exhibits a lot of the angus coloring traits. We don’t really know how much milk she will produce, but it is likely that it will be substandard for what we are looking for in a milk cow. However, it may be perfect for someone looking for a little milk for their family and a good beef calf every year. We shall see. At this point, her fate is still up in the air.

Violet

Just a brief note on Violet. She did not make it into the rotation for artificial insemination. And we did not expose her to the bull. She is not pregnant and will remain open for the coming spring birthing season. In June next year, she will make it back into the breeding rotation. Violet has really good Normande breeding genetics. She has the BB kappa casein genetic trait that we want for cheesemaking. I asked about her weight and the vet said that even though her belly is really big and round, she is not overweight near her ovaries and therefore does not have Buttercup’s issue with weight. She’s a keeper for now.

The Jerseys, Butter and Rosie

Now on to the Jersey girls. Butter is a champ. She is pregnant and looking good. No issues there. Rosie, on the other hand, is not pregnant. The vet had already warned me that this was the most likely issue with a heifer having a calf when she was so very young. Getting pregnant again might take a little time.

Scott and I were just discussing this morning that we might want to have one cow that gives birth in the fall so we have some milk year-round. Right now, we dry them up in November and have no fresh milk products until March or April the following year. Rosie might be an ideal candidate for a fall delivery. We shall see. There are still a couple of months ahead of us before we would need to make that decision.

Special Cheeses

Any cow that gave birth in the fall would be completely out of the rotation for making cheese. Do we really want to give up that milk? It’s still under consideration. It would be nice to have a very small amount of milk to make cream cheese and yogurt throughout the winter. And perhaps a bit of camembert, reblochon or other cheese that we might make in smaller quantities for personal use.

Calf Sharing

If we decide to do that, we would do what is known as calf sharing. That means the calf stays with mom. Anytime we want to have milk, we simply separate them overnight and milk in the morning. For any of you thinking about having your own milk cow, this offers tremendous freedom. Normally, cows get milked twice a day. But if you are calf sharing, the calf takes care of the milk during the day. Overnight mom makes lots of milk and we get to keep that part. The calf rejoins mom and gets all of the luscious milk throughout the day. As I mentioned earlier, even Luna would produce enough milk to make this work. And if the day comes when you don’t want to milk at all on any given day, just leave calf and mom together for the entire day and night. It’s a win-win situation. The calf really appreciates the extra juice and the homesteader gets a break from milking every single day, seven days a week.

Well, that was a lot of cow updates. On to the sheep. I won’t be as long-winded here I promise.

Sheep and Mack

Mack is doing a good job of protecting the few sheep that we have left in the flock. We had one ewe that had an abscess on her chest. The vet drained it and gave us instructions on how to care for it. She is nearly healed already. Lambert, the ram had deeper issues. We don’t really know the cause but he had some pretty severe hoof issues. The vet seemed to think it was perhaps related to running around trying to get away from predators that precipitated this issue. His feet were really sore. She tried trimming his hooves but there wasn’t really much there. We treated all of the sheep for hoof scald and hoof rot. This is a problem that we are aware of but have never encountered. It usually happens when their hooves are not in top shape and they are exposed to a lot of water. And it appears, that lots of stress on the hooves can caused problems.

Worms Again?

In addition to the hoof problem, Lambert also had an enormous worm load. He had lost lots and lots of weight. He is still actually quite weak. The worms suck the blood out via the stomach. The animal becomes very anemic. It does take some time to heal. Hopefully, Lambert will turn the corner soon and regain his weight and strength. He was pretty far gone and his health is still up in the air.

The remaining two seems to be in relatively good shape. We wormed all of them just to be sure. Lambert’s worm overload was also likely precipitated by the enormous amount of stress they all endured during the predator attacks. Stress can weaken their systems enough to give the worms the window of opportunity they need to begin to multiplying uncontrollably.

It has been a good long time since we had any issues with worms and we may have been a little lax. Going forward we will be keeping a closer eye on these guys. Hopefully, they will all stay relaxed and continue to live peacefully on the homestead.

We are also still looking to add a few more ewes to the flock soon. Rebuilding will take some time and we want to get started on that process. Two more dogs are lined up to help us out as we rebuild from the disastrous spring and summer. More on that later.

Personal Health Update

Before closing today I’ll give a brief health update for both Scott and myself. Scott is doing very well with treatment. He is two and a half weeks into seven weeks of radiation treatment. No chemo, thank the Lord. He drives an hour each way to receive the treatment, Monday through Friday. I will be accompanying him in the coming days.

He is managing the treatment very well. A sore throat makes it more and more difficult to eat. There are lots of treatments to help with that as well. Taking daily naps is a way of life for him. Sometimes for a couple of hours, but yesterday for only a half hour. We are still fairly early on in the treatment so we will see how he progresses.

Treatment Side Effects

At this point in the treatment, the worst side effects start to manifest. I already mentioned the difficulty in getting food down due to the pain in his throat. Add to this that his taste will change. Doctors have let him know that everything will begin to taste horrible. Their experience has shown that the taste issue will continue for a month or two or even more past the time when the treatments are complete. As you can imagine, this adds insult to injury. He already has trouble swallowing. How much worse will it be when he has to force himself to even put anything into his mouth?

Scott is a trooper. He is a stoic individual. I fully expect he will plow through this just like he does any other issue that presents itself to his world. I am here to support him in any way that I can.

My Health

My state of health is stable. That is the best way I can describe it. The time prior to the treatment starting was more stressful. I can say that at this point. Who knows what the future will hold? I could be off-the-scale stressed next week. The uncertainty of what the future would hold, one appointment after another in preparation for treatment and my own insecurity about whether I was mentally and emotionally up to the task of caring for Scott was wreaking havoc on my normal schedule and making me a little cray-cray. Now that we are settled into a routine, I am handling it much better. I feel much more relaxed and confident in my ability to respond to Scott’s needs as they arise.

We are blessed to have all of you praying for us. Thank you so much. Please continue to pray for us and we will pray for you.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s podcast. I know the cow updates were long and perhaps too detailed. I didn’t even get to the quail. Well, too late now. I need to get this podcast published and then on to the evening chores. It’s time to wake Scott up from his nap so he can start on his evening routine. The regularity of routine is a life saver when your life is topsy-turvy.

Again, thank you so much for your prayers.

And I will add the shameless plugs because we need your support. If you enjoyed this podcast, please go to Apple Podcasts or Google Play whatever podcasting service you use, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review. If you like this content and want to help out the show, the absolute best way you can do that is to share it with any friends or family who might be interested in this type of content. Let them know about the Peaceful Heart Farmcast.

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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