Prepare for Disaster

Prepare for disaster is a motto I grew up with living in rural Michigan. Back in the day, when the power went off due to a winter storm, it could be off for several weeks. Today we have much better electrical systems and our current provider has kept us in good shape. We have never been without power for more than a few days. But even that can be disastrous if we are not prepared. Today I want to talk about how we prepare for disasters that may or may not happen.

First, let me take a moment to 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 so much for your time and attention. I appreciate you all so much and I couldn’t do it without you. It’s midwinter and life goes on here at the homestead.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

The cold weather has been consistent for weeks. Not too cold, getting just below freezing at night and 40s and sometimes 50s during the day. This is a typical Southwestern Virginia winter. I look for a few days of freezing weather sometime in the near future. A typical winter will have at least four or five days when the temperatures drop all the way to the teens and occasionally single digits overnight. That four or five day stretch usually happens at least once and sometimes twice, usually in January. It hasn’t happened yet. Still waiting for that shoe to drop. We did have some unseasonably cold weather in December, but January is proceeding right long the normal line.

Cows

The cows are handling the cold weather as they always do. It amazes me that these animals can go through the winter without seeming to notice it too much. I go out there and the cows are moseying around, eating grass and/or hay looking like they don’t have a care in the world. If they are eating, they are laying down, relaxing and chewing their cud, again, like they haven’t got a care in the world. Personally, I don’t handle cold very well, but I’m so glad they do.

Donkeys

The donkeys handle the cold very well also. Their coats are full and thick. Just about everyday they come up to the milking shed looking for a treat. Scott or I will give them a small handful of sweet feed and a petting. When they are finished, they head on down to the creek and out to pasture with everybody else. Our donkeys are the friendliest animals on the homestead.

Sheep and Goats

The sheep and goats always prepare for disaster in winter. They have really thick coats. Our goats are cashmere goats. They have a really thick undercoat of cashmere that they shed in the spring. Our sheep are hair sheep which means they also grow a thick coat of wool and shed it in the spring. No shearing for these sheep. I was watching the ewes graze in the front pasture. Just like the cows, not a care in the world.

Quail

The quail are even more amazing to me. They have feathers and I can’t see that they have any extra feathers for winter. Whatever they have is what they have and that’s it. My ladies and gents have it better than they would out in the wild. There is a box shelter where they can get completely out of the wind. They can huddle together for added warmth. Sometimes I go out there and they are kind of fluffed up, but other than that, not a shiver. Nature is amazing.

Garden

This time of year is the time to plan for the spring garden. What plants will we grow? How many? What will be rotated to another location? And so on. I’m a bit behind on getting started with that but I just can’t seem to drum up the energy. It’s too cold and I don’t want to think about going out in the garden when it is cold. Anyway, I’ll get to it in the next couple of weeks.

Creamery

The creamery roof is nearly complete. Scott is putting the finishing touches on the peaks. He spent much of the day yesterday rigging up a way to safely move around up there. Today he is full steam ahead getting those ridge caps completed.

Still to come is all of the ends of the building above the ground floor. I think they are called dormer walls or something like that. It’s basically the area from the top of the block building to the peak of the roof. All of that will be covered in the same metal as with the roof.

It’s cold out there every day. And every day Scott is out there working in it. He doesn’t mind the cold and he prepares for it with layers of clothes.

Preparing for Disaster

Speaking of being prepared, let me get into how we prepare for disaster. Some of it anyway. I could probably talk all day long about how we created and executed our plan. Some of it is still in progress.

No matter where you are in the world, there is always something you can do to prepare for disaster. You simply never know when power is going to be out or something disrupts the flow of goods. For instance, I got caught short this summer because there was a shortage of canning jars and lids. In the end, I did have enough for what I needed to save our harvests, but it was touch and go sometimes. Recently I came across canning jars while in town and I purchased just about everything they had on the shelf. Still no lids but I got a better stock of jars than I have had in the past. We learn from our mistakes.

Let’s start at the beginning. The first thing to stock up on is water.

Water

You should always have water on hand or access to clean water. Making this happen doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Today, we have a hand pump connected to our well so we can always get water when needed whether we have power to the well pump or not. Still, we keep water on hand in the house. While it’s easy to go out there and hand pump some water, it is still easier to reach back in a closet or go into the spare bathroom and get some water for cooking, cleaning and flushing.

The recommended amount of water you will want to store is 7.5 gallons of water per person per month. A family of four would have 15 gallons of water stored if preparing for a short-term disaster lasting a few days or weeks. That’s where you always start. How much do I need for 2 to 4 weeks? Then get it done. You have the blue 5-gallon containers at Lowe’s, Home Depot, the grocery, and so on. Invest in a few of those and you are good to go. Strapped for cash? Buy one a week or even one a month. Your stored water will need to be refreshed regularly. Either use it or pour it out, but replaced what you have stored in the containers every 6 months or so. You don’t have to get there all at once. But you do want to get your water situated first.

Food

The second item is food. This one is a little trickier and takes quite a bit more time. So, start now. There are many methods for building up your food stores. Set several goals with this one.

How Many Days to Prepare for Disaster?

First, how many days of food do you need to store? That depends. Start with a week, then go to a month, then three months and so on. Ideally, you get to a place where you have a full year’s worth of food stored for your entire family. That may seem like a lot and it actually is a lot. But for my peace of mind, I wanted a full year of food. You may make your cutoff date sooner – and some even plan for longer.

What Food Should Be Stored?

Second, don’t store anything your family won’t eat. What are you eating right now? That’s what you want to stock up on. Forget the MRE’s and whatever else might sound great or someone might try to sell to prepare for disaster. What you want is food that your family regularly eats. Most foods have a shelf life of at least a year. If you rotate what you have saved, using the oldest stuff first and adding back what you have used in the back of the shelf, you can come up with a system that keeps you stocked up at all times. This is the first in, first out method. Instead of having one box of cereal, you have 12, or whatever you determine is the right number. Buy an extra box or two whenever you shop, or whatever you can afford. Build up slowly. You’ll be there before you know it.

Bulk Foods

One of the best ideas for food is to store some products in bulk containers. I’m talking about beans, rice, sugar and wheat or flour. You can live a long time on beans and rice. And if you are into making your own bread, having wheat or flour on hand at all times is a great idea. This is another place to build slowly.

The pieces you need to do this part effectively are: 5-to-6-gallon food-grade plastic buckets, mylar bags, oxygen absorbers and a standard household iron. The mylar bag goes in the bucket. The beans, rice, wheat, or flour go in the bag. Toss in a couple of oxygen absorbers and seal the bag with your iron. The oxygen absorber will suck out all the oxygen in the bag, And the sealed bag without oxygen will keep the food fresh for up to 30 years. I said 5 or 6-gallon buckets, but you can use smaller buckets. I like the larger buckets because I can buy 40 or 50 pounds of beans or rice and it fits in the larger bucket.

Canned Goods

Let’s talk about canned goods. These can also last for a very long time – not so much as the beans and rice, but still a long while. Those “use-by” dates on the can are not expiration dates. They are CYA dates for the manufacturers. As long as the can is not damaged and the seal is in place, canned food in jars and metal cans will last for years. Food in jars needs to be kept out of the light. And all canned foods need to be kept at room temperature or lower. Keep that in mind when you are planning where to store your stuff. Strapped for space? Under the bed works pretty well. Use that cabinet space up high that is empty because you can’t reach it easily. Find used shelving at yard sales and put it up in your garage. Lots of ways to make the space you need.

And don’t forget the can opener. Not one of those electric ones. No! a hand-operated can opener is needed.

Self-Protection

I’m not going to talk about this one because I’m not educated enough to know what to say. We do have weapons and ammo and such but Scott handles all of that. I’ll just mention it here and say find someone who knows what they are talking about with this and follow their podcasts or YouTube videos. It’s definitely important. And don’t forget to get the proper training. It’s no good to have weapons you don’t know how to use safely and care for properly.

Energy Needs

This is the last piece I’m going to touch on today. There is so much to cover on this topic I couldn’t possibly do it justice. So, I’m just going to give you a bit of information to get you started. Every person’s situation is different and your energy needs are going to be different.

Gasoline

Keep extra gasoline on hand. That’s an easy one. We try to keep 12 containers at all times. I must say, we are not as efficient at this as could be desired. If you have 12 containers of gasoline labeled one each month, rotate through that stock at a particular date in the month. In other words, in January, you empty the container labeled “January” into one of your car gas tanks. Pick a day of the month that you do this. The first, 15th or last day of the month are good choices. Take the empty container and refill it. That newly filled container won’t be emptied for a year and it will require a fuel stabilizer to keep it fresh and usable.

Generator

Having a generator that has enough power to run your refrigerator and freezer is a great tool. Again, add these things as you can afford them. Get your food stores up to a couple of weeks at least before moving on to a generator. Your generator will need to be started once a month to keep it in tip-top shape and so you know it is in good working order. You don’t want to be without power and find out that your generator is no longer working.

Living off the Grid

You may decide to go completely off the grid – or at least be prepared to go completely off the grid. That takes a great deal of planning and the choices are endless so I’m not going to go into that topic. But I will say keep in mind that, while solar sounds really good, if you don’t live in a really, really sunny place it may not be the option for you. There are other options.

Having a wood burning stove is always good. At the very least you can use your gas grill to cook meals – if you have planned ahead and have an extra propane tank or two. We took out our electric stove and put in a gas stove. The oven won’t work but the surface burners can be lit with a match. Keep some of those on hand. I like using what I’m used to using for cooking, so this works for me. We have the wood burning stove as well – complete with an oven. I really should learn how to cook on that thing in the event we run out of propane.

Communication

This is the toughest one to get prepared for in my opinion. How do we communicate? As long as the cell towers are up and running and your phone battery is charged, we can communicate. Well, we would have to climb way up to the top of our property and then maybe, just maybe, we would get a cell signal.

Right now, we have all sorts of social media where we can find out what is going on with family, friends and co-workers. But what if you didn’t have that? How would you get in touch with people? Could you get in touch with people? This topic requires some deep thought, lots of planning, and practice sessions to make sure your plans work. You don’t want to be isolated.

There is a significant amount of banning of communication going on in the large tech communities. They have a great deal of power. Indeed, more power than the US government. They can turn off anyone with the push of a button. They can make you disappear. You might want to consider broadening your reach to smaller platforms if you can find one that works for you and your family.

I have created a page on a site called Locals. You can find me on locals by searching for peaceful heart farm. Once you’ve joined my community, you can post whatever you’d like on my page. We can have a conversation and share insights.

I think I’m going to end there.

Final Thoughts

The animals go on and on and don’t give a thought to whether there is power to heat the house. And as long as the grass and hay keep coming, they are good to go. For us, it’s more complicated. As I said, I don’t like being cold. I’m grateful for our wood burning stove. It saves on electricity in the winter and is quite useful in a pinch for cooking.

I’ve spent years gathering food, both for ourselves and now saving up in case our neighbors are not prepared or not financially able to make it happen. And our water supply will also help out – and indeed has – helped out our neighbors. There is so much more to prepare for disaster but these two pieces are key. Water and food. Start today. You just have no idea when the power lines are going to go down with a winter storm, a hurricane, tornado and so on. It may be only a couple of days but it very well could be weeks. Remember hurricane Sandy and what a disaster that was and not so long ago.

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. And please give locals.com a try.

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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Pickled Quail Eggs

Let’s get back to the quail and pickled quail eggs. So much has happened. Many changes since the last time I talked about them. Ten jars of pickled quail eggs that have been completed. And so much more to talk about, especially the creamery roof.

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 and I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

It’s getting close to Christmas. Hope you all are ready. Scott and I have been watching the YouTube series called “The Chosen”. I highly recommend it. The story so far is about Jesus’ adult life, not his birth. It’s still great watching for Christmas time IMO. A second season is currently in the works. I believe filming is scheduled to be completed in February 2021. I don’t know a release date, but I’m eagerly anticipating its release.

Quail

On to the quail updates on the homestead.

Last time I talked about our beautiful Japanese Coturnix quail we were having issues with hens getting beat up really bad. We rescued a bunch of them and put them in quarantine away from the others. One rooster was also in quarantine. Each and every one of them healed up just fine. The only problem is that we couldn’t put them back in their various cages lest the same thing happen all over again. So, they were slated for culling.

An additional blessing and/or problem was we were getting 29 or 30 eggs every day. That’s a bit too many. Who knew that we would be so successful in getting them to lay throughout the winter? Last year we had zero, zip, nada for eggs throughout the entire winter. Then one day in late March, they all started laying again as if on cue. Getting 30 eggs at a time was a giant blessing. The more eggs we get from our quail, the less eggs we have to purchase elsewhere.

Culling Hens

Before I get on to the pickled quail eggs, I need to talk a little bit more about culling the hens. When you live the homestead life, there are certain choices that need to be made that are not always easy. I love our quail. The eggs they lay are so cute and beautifully colored. However, we have to face facts and only keep what we need. And we need to give them the best life. We ended up reducing our quail population by 12 birds – well actually 13 but I will get to the additional bird in a moment. We had 6 in quarantine. Originally, there were five hens and one rooster in the bottom cages. In the lower cage on the right, we were missing a hen, the white one. All of the groups have 1 rooster to 5 hens. With my new experience, I realized I could not add another hen to the cage because she would just get beat up by the others as they vied for dominance and so we simply took all of the remaining hens out of there. That was four more. The cage on the bottom left had only one hen and a rooster in it. The other four hens from that cage were in quarantine. We took that last hen and added her to the group to be culled. Now we have 11. The end result is two cages on the bottom, one left and one right, that have a rooster and no hens.

In the penthouse was an interesting situation in that there were originally 10 hens and 2 roosters on each side – or so we thought. On the right side is where the rooster in quarantine came from so there was only one rooster there now and 10 hens. We took the five extra hens without a rooster buddy from the penthouse right side and put them in the lower cage with the lone rooster on the right. It made sense that these hens had been raised together and would therefore live in relative harmony together with their new rooster friend. They did to a point. More on that in a minute.

Miscalculations

In the penthouse on the left side was supposed to be 2 roosters and 10 hens. The only problem was that I kept getting 11 eggs from there. That’s right. I got 11 eggs from 10 hens. After closer inspection it became clear that I had misidentified one of the hens as a rooster. No problem. I needed five hens to be moved to the lower cage on the left. That left six hens and a rooster in the left penthouse. I snagged one of the hens at random and added her to the cull group. Now there were 12 in the cull group and each cage had 1 rooster and 5 hens. It seemed perfect.

More Rearranging

We processed all of the culled birds immediately and I had them in cold water overnight. There are enzymes produced in that first 24 hours or so that help tenderize the meat. Once that process is complete, I usually package them and then freeze them in packages of four birds. However, these 12 were slated for dinner and leftovers and they got an extra day in the frig. The very next day after doing all this culling and rearranging of hens, I went out to feed and water them and found another hen with a slightly bloody head. It wasn’t bad but she had definitely been abused. This time I grabbed the rooster and immediately quarantined him. It had to be him. The girls were getting along fine before and now the bloody head again. The only change was putting them in with the rooster. Sure enough, the next day, her head was much better and there were no other injuries. She healed up within three days and still no other injuries. As soon as I saw that she was going to heal up without the rooster in there, he got added to the dinner pot. And that is how it ended up being 13 instead of 12. We still have a few leftovers in the frig. Maybe dinner tonight.

Not Perfect But It Will Work

So now, one cage has five hens with no rooster. All five still lay eggs like clockwork. I just won’t be able to use those infertile eggs in the incubator.

The final note with the quail is that yesterday, I went out to feed them and found one of the hens in the penthouse on the right had died. There were five eggs in there, so she laid her daily egg before expiring. This happens sometimes. There was no mark on her externally, but she had blood just inside her beak. Something internal went wrong. I have no idea what. One cage has a rooster and four hens instead of five. That reduces our total hens to 24. That’s two dozen eggs each day. Hope the rest of them fair well through the rest of the winter. We will have to cull a few more to make room for new babies in the spring. But until then, lots of eggs. And some of them will be made into pickled eggs.

Pickled Quail Eggs

I boiled 100 quail eggs and made 10 jars (1/2 pint) of pickled quail eggs. The boiled eggs were submerged in vinegar. This did two things. First, the spots lifted off and floated to the surface of the liquid. Second, the shells, now white, became soft and rubbery overnight. Peeling them was a matter of pinching the soft shell and peeling the rubber-like shell. It was so easy. Who knew peeling eggs could be so easy.

I used three different pickling recipes. The basic pickling solution was similar in all of them. Two cups vinegar and one cup water and two to four tablespoons of sugar depending on the recipe. The salt varied a little too. This solution was enough for three jars plus a little. I made three jars of pickled quail eggs with this solution and added curry seasoning. There were three jars of pickled quail eggs with the vinegar solution, a pickling spice mix and ½ a beet. Those are a beautiful pink egg now. Then I did four jars of pickled quail eggs using apple cider vinegar in the mix instead of white vinegar and I added some minced garlic. I used the same pickling spice mix as the previous one. Unfortunately, none of them have been tasted yet. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

In the end, I have canned 10 jars of pickled quail eggs with plans for quite a few more over the winter. It will be a fine snack throughout the next year.

Apple Pie Jam

Speaking of canning, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned my apple pie jam. It’s pretty simple and out of this world delicious. The other day while out picking up some quail feed I ordered from a local supplier, I bought another bushel of apples. The previous bushel made lots of apple pie filling and a bit of apple pie jam. And there they were apples galore right out there for me to pick up. This year was the first time I had made the apple pie jam and it was a hit. Basically, it’s an apple jam recipe with pie spices added. It is unbelievably good. It has ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, and ground allspice. A bushel of apples ended up making another 40 pint jars of apple pie jam.

Perhaps I went a little overboard with making this jam, but it was really fun. I have some ½ pints that I’m selling at the farmer’s market, and will likely sell some of the pint jars as well. There will still be plenty for ourselves and as gifts for family and friends. It’s just one of those things that was so fun I just had to do it over and over. Two days straight with canning two batches of 10 pints each. Now you know what to expect out of a bushel of apples. Plan accordingly.

Cows

On to the animals. Most of the cows are still grazing on grass. It’s amazing. No hay for the main herd yet. We are near the end of December. The plan is progressing nicely. Most of the year there will be no hay expenses for these girls. It’s a giant step forward in our homestead plan. Everyone is doing well.

Just last night a new possibility arose to add another new bred heifer or young cow to our herd. This time if it works out, we will be adding another purebred Normande to our homestead. We’re excited. It will be a very, very long trip, but so worth it. These young ladies are hard to come by and we hope to remedy that in the future by having lots and lots of heifers for ourselves as well as having some to sell to others. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me if we have any heifers for sale. It seems lots of people are looking for these beautiful cows and there just aren’t that many heifers available. Especially that have the milking genetics. I’ll keep you posted on how this new development progresses. And if you are one of those looking for a Normande, drop me an email and I’ll let you know who to contact.

Donkeys

All of the donkeys got their hooves trimmed. Johnny was really, really difficult. I think more difficult than he has ever been. He was constantly kicking, jerking, moving around. And when Scott got to the last hoof, he just layed down. It was a very trying experience for all concerned. On the other hand, Cocoa is getting used to it. She did really well. And as always, Daisy and Sweet Pea just stand there. It’s old hat for them. Glad to get that accomplished.

All of the donkeys have their winter coats. They are like little fuzz balls.

Sheep

I was going out the driveway yesterday and noticed the sheep are looking nice and fat. I’m talking about the breeding group in the front pastures. They look really round but it is too early for that to be pregnancy showing. Sheep gestation is only five months. They are not even two months along. It is that last month that they get really big and round. No these girls are just really healthy and strong. It’s good to see them doing so well.

Creamery

The roof is in progress. What a job it was to get the material here and unloaded. It was not without issue. Plus, the wind contributed to some additional damage to the materials. Scott is out there right now finishing one run of metal on the lower end of the loafing shed.

This morning it was quite the ordeal to get the last pieces delivered and transported from the road back to the building site. Scott had quite the elaborate setup in place and it would have worked beautifully if his tractor had had a little more toughness. Unfortunately, it was just a little bit too small for the task. The metal was bundled all in one piece and was delivered on a tow truck. Because the pieces are so long, this was the only way to get it to us. Department of transportation rules for how much can hang off of a trailer made this job much harder to accomplish.

Bent Roofing Material – Oops

Anyway, the tow truck arrived this morning with the roof metal. Scott had our hay trailer rigged up so the bundle could be lifted up off the truck, the tow truck would drive out from under the bundle, Scott would back his hay trailer under it and then lower the bundle onto our hay trailer. He had already tested his ability to drive it back to the building site. All should work well. We had a neighbor friend bring his tractor over to help lift the load. All actually did go well for a brief moment. Then the load shifted, Scott’s smaller tractor was just not able to hold up the load and it slipped off the forks. Lots of bent metal sheets. A few more gyrations and they got it onto the trailer and the rest of the plan went smoothly. It’s all there next to the building ready for Scott and I to unload it one sheet at a time. That’s for tomorrow.

More Bent Roofing Material

Last week Scott picked up a different load of metal. These were shorter pieces that fit on the hay trailer. He and I unloaded that without issue. Yesterday, Scott laid out quite a few sheets of these metal sheets onto some sawhorses. Even before going out to the road to meet the tow truck driver, he discovered that the thunder I thought I heard last night was actually the wind blowing those large pieces of metal all over the place. More bent metal roof panels. You can’t have everything go right every day. That just would not be real homestead living. In the end, the roof will be completed and all will be well. I have a long day tomorrow helping with the heavy lifting and moving those 27-foot sheets of metal off of the trailer and under the barn. Some of them will get moved to the roof as well. I expect my biceps and wrists to be sore again. But hey, that’s one of the reasons we do what we do. No need to go to the gym. They are closed anyway. Daily life on the homestead is a workout that is never boring.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for this podcast. Trials and tribulations galore. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another. All in all, things are going well for us on the homestead at the present time. We say our prayers and thank God for our blessings. The animals are healthy (well except for that one quail) and we are healthy.

I can’t get enough of those quail. It looks like we finally have all the issues worked out. We are back to normal operations with everybody happy and content in their little homes. I just put a jar of pickled quail eggs out on the counter as an appetizer for tonight’s dinner.

The creamery is moving along at a good clip. It won’t be long and we will have finally realized that dream. Just another one of those blessings I’m always talking about.

In the near future I’m going to be updating the website to highlight our raw milk cheese herd shares. Look for updates on that next time. This year’s cheeses are superb. If you regularly eat a pound or two of cheese per month, you might want to think about joining our herd share program. You can own a piece of the herd and dine on locally produced cheese.

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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Our Raw Milk Cheese Creamery Progress

Our raw milk cheese creamery was the center of the day today. The construction is moving along nicely. Our state inspectors made an appearance and helped us out with details on safety measures. We work with them every step of the way to make sure all safety concerns are addressed.

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

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Winter animal care was high priority today. Let’s talk about that before we get into the details of our lovely raw milk cheese creamery project. We check up on the animals regularly. Some we can easily see in the front fields and every time we go out the driveway. Others are out there in the back fields. It takes a bit more effort to check up on them, but rest assured, they are not out of sight, out of mind. I’ll start with the cows.

Cows

Our beautiful Normande cows are the centerpiece of our small farmstead raw milk cheese creamery. It is our habit to check on them first. I say first, but they are all out there together. And while we may be aiming at the cows, sometimes it is the sheep or goats that we encounter first. Many times, it is the donkeys. More on that later.

There are five big girls in our current herd. I say big girls because these five have already had a calf. We have our newest arrival, Rosie, who is still known has a heifer. That means she has never had a calf. I guess technically she is a bred heifer. She has never had a calf but is currently pregnant. Currently she is in a pasture with the younger calves so we can keep a closer eye on her as her pregnancy progresses.

The “Big” Girls

Anyway, of the five big girls, four are pregnant. Everyone looks healthy and happy. Claire barely looked up as I approached. She was far too busy eating grass to give me much notice. Violet always looks up whenever we come near. She wants attention and yet she doesn’t want attention. I guess what she really wants in a treat. But they don’t get treats in the winter. Only during lactation. So, she will have to wait until late March or early April to get any more treats. Butter is quite open to petting, while Buttercup avoids it at all costs. Cloud has had her hooves repaired but she is still quite standoffish when out in the field. All of them are easy to get close to when they are up in the milking shed. Funny how that goes.

Grazing Abundance

The grass in those back fields is holding up very well. They are literally still eating green grass and it is coming on close to mid-December. Scott believes they will not need hay until late February. I can’t tell you how great that is for a couple of reasons. The cost, of course, is always the first concern in my mind. I do all of the accounting and cost is always on my mind.

The next great thing is that the green grass is always going to be better nutrition and the animals truly prefer grass to hay. We want to keep them on green grass for as long as possible. Ideally, we would be able to graze them all the way through the winter until the spring grass appears in late March. That is a goal we likely will not meet for many years. We would need additional pasture, especially as we are on a path to grow our herd.

Hay is Still Needed

If we double our herd size, having green grass available to them for the entire winter is a really long shot without clearing some of our wooded areas and turning them into pasture. That’s a huge job for the distant future. They do fine on hay. It’s just similar to having a burger and fries when you really want a nice traditional home-cooked dinner. Sure, the burger and fries will keep you fed. But the real treat is that homemade roast leg of lamb with macaroni and cheese on the side. Throw in some crowder peas and it is a meal to be savored.

Sheep

Speaking of savoring a good meal, the sheep will continue to eat as much grass as they can scrounge. When the pickings get slim, the cows will rush to the hay as Scott brings it into the pasture. However, even when they have hay available, the sheep are going to go for every little bit of grass they can find. They eventually go eat the hay. And shortly thereafter, they are right back out there grazing on little bits of grass.

Counting Sheep

One of the regular exercises we do when checking on animals is counting them. Well, we don’t really count the cows. They are all grazing quietly in the field and we simply identify them by name. The sheep can be a little trickier. They hang out in a bunch and they move together almost as one unit. Trying to pick out individual animals is nearly impossible. Even counting bodies can be a challenge. One method that works well is for Scott to walk toward them from one side and I hang out toward the other side. As they move away from him, they will string out just a little bit and I can more easily get an accurate count. Because they can see me, they walk or trot in my direction more slowly and I can get that accurate count. Eventually, they make a turn away from both of us and bunch up again. I gotta be quick with the count.

It’s important that we count regularly and make sure they are all there. If a predator starts picking them off, they will continue one by one until we do something. We have to be vigilant in protecting the sheep. We accounted for all 12 that are in the flock with the big cow girls. This includes three younger girls from spring a year ago and all nine of the lambs from this past spring.

Goats

As far as the goats, well there is no goat counting. At least not nearly as often. There is little we can do to protect them that they cannot do for themselves. Goats are quite different from sheep in their herding behaviors. For one thing, they can go places sheep wouldn’t dare. Case in point, they were all in a different field than the cows and sheep. It seems that no matter which field that everyone else is currently occupying, the goats find a way to get into the next field. Another disadvantage to counting them easily is that they mill around much more randomly than the sheep. They do cluster together but it is a much larger circle. The space separating each animal is quite a bit larger. And when they see someone approaching, they all get up and start moving about in varying directions in small groups. Eventually, one will take the lead and start to move the herd in a particular direction, everyone else follows – sort of.

Goat Herds

Again, this is a little different than sheep as they will be farther apart and then bunch up and then spread out again with one or two moving in a random direction. It’s kind of like they are trying to do a goat “head fake” trying to fool you into thinking they are going to run in a different direction from the rest of the herd. Lots of times it is not a fake and they bolt in that direction, taking 1/3 to 1/2 the herd with them. They split up into two or three groups and then rally back together after they run past you. This is what I am talking about when I refer to their self-protection against predators. They go in so many directions, it’s harder to catch them. It’s also harder to count them. Their speed and agility are phenomenal.

Today, when they saw us approaching, they immediately moved into the woods. Not running away in particular. Just moving out of sight and into the cover of trees. That’s a signal that these beauties are going to make you work hard for a head count. Maybe we’ll get them counted next time.

Donkeys

While we were checking on everyone, the donkeys came up for a cuddle and to say “hi”. They have their fuzzy coats on for winter and look so sweet. Just about every day, they wander up to the milking shed and bray at us, well mostly Scott while he is out there working on the building next to them. Have I mentioned how people friendly donkeys are? According to what I’ve read, they are even more personable than horses. I can believe it. They followed me around while we were checking on the other animals. And Daisy likes to come up behind me when I stop and give me a little shove with her head. You know, just a little notice that, “Hey, I’m here. Give me some loving.” And one of the greatest things is that Cocoa will come up behind Daisy and put her head across Daisy’s back trying to get close enough for a nice nose rub, but keeping her mom between us. After that, she will come around and get a more proper petting. What would we do without our donkeys to brighten the day?

Raw Milk Cheese Creamery

I didn’t give an update on our raw milk cheese creamery last time and lots has happened. There were special panels planned for the milking parlor and in the cheese make room. These panels are specifically chosen because they can be cleaned easily. That work is currently in progress.

Milking Parlor

Scott started with the milking parlor. The special panels are smooth, white panels that are glued to the wall. It was a little tricky getting them to stick strongly enough for the glue to set up in the cooler weather. In fact, they never did stick completely. So, plan B had to be put into action. Scott found appropriate screws to hold the panels in place. So far, so good with that plan. The milking parlor is done. There was a small run under the ledge where they stand in front of us. And then there was a larger bit of paneling along the wall in front of the cows. On to the cheese make room and more challenges.

Raw Milk Cheese Make Room

The cheese make room is designed to be cleaned easily and efficiently. These panels run from floor to ceiling, all the way around the room. I’m impressed with them. Clean up before, during and after cheesemaking is an important, necessary and time-consuming effort. These panels are going to be excellent for helping me out with keeping the room immaculate in the least amount of time.

Part of the challenge with getting the glue to stick relates to the ambient temperature and the temperature of the walls themselves. Even though screws have been added to the mix, they are really only there to hold it up against the wall until the glue can set. The panels are only screwed into the wall around the edges. The center is still held against the wall with glue. A few days ago, the temperature quite strongly took a downward turn. Additional techniques had to be employed to get the cheese make room warm enough to keep going with construction. It’s always something, right?

Heating Up the Room

We have a couple of small space heaters we used during our time living in a camper in South Carolina. Those had to be dug out. One was already in use in the small cheese room to keep the temp up to the proper level in there. Scott tried to use the other, lesser unit to heat up the cheese make room. He had even tacked up heavy plastic on the ceiling beams to hold in some of the heat. Imagine the extra time added for that little bit of unplanned construction.

He added the heater but it wasn’t strong enough to do the job. The cheese make room is quite large. The cheese cave is much smaller than the cheese make room. The remedy for that was exchanging the radiant heater out of the cheese cave with the weaker heater. The lesser unit is adequate for the job of keeping the temperature up to the target in the cheese cave, though it does not hold the temperature with the same steadiness as the radiant heater. Anyway, the radiant heater worked well enough when moved to the cheese make room, keeping the temperature up to 50 degrees or so. The work on the wall is now progressing quite well in there.

Stairways to Attics

Moving on to stairways. There will be two very long stairways from the ground to the attics. Attic space is in use above the creamery and then a half stair up to the attic above the milking parlor. There is an outside door into each of these areas. What’s missing is an easy way to get into those doors. Temporary methods using the tractor to lift a pallet full of stuff or simply climbing a ladder with your arms full are inadequate. Scott is working hard to get those stairs designed in between waiting for the cheese make room to be warm enough in which to work. Yay! I’ll be glad when the stairs are done. I sent lots of stuff up there for storage – stuff that I use but perhaps not that often. Being able to just climb the stairs to get it back will be great. And then of course, once I’m done using it, back up the stairs I go to put it back into storage. Lots of herd share jars, canning equipment, and so on. The dehydrator just made a trip back down and will go back up in a few days. Stairs are going to be great.

The Roof

Another huge step forward is the ordering of the materials for the roof. That was a big deal. Many hours went into the estimates for how many and which pieces are needed to do the job. It is going to cost lots more than I expected, but in the end, you just pay for it and move on. You gotta have a roof and the roof area for this project is huge. Take a look at some of the photos and videos on our Facebook page. There will be much more to report on that coming up soon in future podcasts. The materials are ordered but have not yet arrived.

The VDACS Inspectors

The last bit of info I want to share about the progress of the creamery is the visit from our local VDACS inspectors. VDACS is the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The state version of the USDA. We have a great guy that we have been working with for quite a few years, beginning long before the first tree was cleared from the land.

For this visit, he may brought along another inspector that will likely take over our inspections should he retire. She had been to our farm a couple of years ago and it was great seeing her again. Both of these great people offer lots of pertinent information to keep us out of trouble. We work together to spot areas where contamination may occur and how we might avoid the situation. New procedures, additional pieces of equipment and altering the work flow are all discussed.

We are getting closer and closer to completing this project and becoming a fully inspected USDA facility. At that point we will be ready to start selling our cheese to the local restaurants and wineries. Our dream gets closer every day, every moment.  

Final Thoughts

That’s about all I’m going to cover in today’s podcast. A brief trip around the homestead with updates on the animals and bringing you up to date on our progress with the creamery. I didn’t talk about the quail. I’m figuring out how to pickle quail eggs and I’ll wait until next time to give details on that. There are five different flavor recipes I’m trying out.

Christmas is fast approaching. I hope you are enjoying the season. We don’t celebrate the commercial Christmas. It has been many years since I had a tree or a wreath or lights or anything. Sometimes I think about it but the effort to make it happen does not fit into my schedule. My children are long grown and my youngest grandchild is now 16. How about a nice nativity scene? I can go with making that happen.

Family visits mostly happen over Thanksgiving so Scott and I generally celebrate the birth of our Lord with just the two of us. There are a few other family members that we may visit sometime after the 25th. And who knows who might pop in to see us? We shall see. It’s always great to get together with those we love and Christmas provides the time off from work for others making it easy for us to catch them at home and unburdened by work. I do hope to work in a short visit or two between now and New Years Day.

Once again, I want to thank you all for listening to me ramble on about our traditional raw milk cheese and traditional homestead living and I hope all your dreams come true as well.

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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Thanksgiving Tradition

Thanksgiving tradition is the topic today. I try not to date my podcasts, and today is no different this will be appropriate today and for many years to come. I promise.

Let me take a minute to say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I’m so excited to share with you today George Washington’s First Thanksgiving Proclamation and a little bit about Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Let’s do just a few homestead updates. Some of you will be upset with me if I don’t let you know how Claire and the girls are doing as well as the donkeys, sheep and goats. And then there are those quail.

Cows

Let’s start with the cows. Cloud finally got some relief for her overgrown hooves. I mentioned this ages ago. We even had to stop milking her because she was so sensitive to us getting close to her rear hooves. Both were quite overgrown. Well recently she had begun to limp quite profoundly. And we just don’t let our animals live in pain. They must be treated as soon as possible. That required finding what is called a squeeze chute to be able to get to her hooves. It holds her comfortably without Cloud being able to kick the vet in the face and anywhere else she could land a hit. It took a day or two to get the device, set is up and coordinate with the vet. But it has all been accomplished. Yay!!

While the vet was here, we also had her cut off the sharp ends of Rosie’s horns. That didn’t go as well as we would have liked, but Rosie is fine and no longer able to intimidate the young calves with very sharp horns. While the vet was doing the trim, Rosie decided to kneel down. That caused the vet’s angle on the cut to be off and Rosie caused herself a bit more bleeding than we would have liked. It’s all over now and she will heal up just fine. I was biting my lip with anxiety and it was all for naught. She is fine. Rosie is a strong young lady. Scott says she is doing very, very well. She is alert, attentive, in no apparent distress.

Donkeys

The donkeys are still awaiting their pedicure appointment. With the holidays and company arriving, this was put on the back burner for a few days. We are looking to get that done in the next few days.

Both sets of donkeys came up to say “hi” to the vet. There was a substantial amount of braying and hee hawing. There is nothing quite like a chorus of four donkeys trying to outdo one another.

Sheep and Goats

Nothing really much to say about the sheep and goats. They are all just grazing, chewing their cud and wandering around the pastures. We are blessed to have no problems with these beautiful animals.

Quail

The quail, which also seemed to easy, are proving to be a little bit of a challenge right now. I talked about the one white bird that was beat up by her companions. And I mentioned the one that had a mite infestation. Neither faired well when we tried to re-introduce them to their cage mates. Both ended up back in their individual brooder housing, completely separate from the others and also from each other.

Shortly after that, another hen from the same cage as the one with the mite infestation got bloodied. Because of recent experience, I moved her out immediately. And one of the roosters from the same group showed signs of being pecked on too much. He is also in his own brooder condo. Four birds in four separate living quarters. At this point we may just cull that whole cage of birds and be done with it. Once they show they will be too aggressive with each other, I don’t know that there is anything we can do about it. As I mentioned in the last podcast, Pecking Order, it’s a real thing. These birds can be vicious with each other.

Praise be to God, the rest of them seem to be doing fine. And the eggs are starting to come in at a much faster rate than we can consume them. It seems that 35 breeding hens is a bit much. We have plans to cull out eight birds, six of which are hens, so that should bring down the egg population a little bit.

There are 10 hens on each side of the penthouse. Yesterday, I got nine eggs from side and seven from the other. Previous to that day I was regularly getting seven and four respectively. It looks like we could be getting 10 on each side soon. On the bottom level are 12 hens out of the usual 15 in those cages. Three are in quarantine in the brooders. Those 12 hens are laying 10 to 11 eggs each day. I harvested 26 eggs yesterday. So you see, way too many. Realistically, we only need 15 to 20 eggs a day. We may have to cull even more before winter is done. Else we will be overwhelmed with tiny, cute quail eggs.

If you are interested, I will have them for sale at the farmer’s market. Three dollars a dozen. I’ll even have some recipes for you to try.

That’s it for the homestead updates. I’ll talk more about the creamery next time.

Thanksgiving Tradition

I briefly mentioned that I had company earlier in the week. My son and daughter-in-law came all the way across the country for a visit. It was wonderful to see them again. Their Thanksgiving tradition is to arrive here on Saturday or Sunday before Thanksgiving and spend three to four days with us before moving on down the road to visit the other parents in South Georgia. Then a quick swing back to Oklahoma and back to work for both of them.

The Thanksgiving tradition of families getting together has been around for a long time in this country. Today, I want to talk about how that tradition originated. Likely there is going to be some information here that you have never heard. Or perhaps, like me, you may remember some of it vaguely and other parts are completely new. Let me start by going over some of the things that happened at the first Thanksgiving in 1621.

It is unlikely that any of you learned of the political disagreements between the native tribes. And there is a great deal of history leading up to 1621 that is left out of history books, and indeed today, is even being rewritten. I’m going to leave it to you to investigate this information. There are two articles that I will link in the show notes to get you started. The first is “History of the First Thanksgiving” by Rebecca Beatrice Brooks and published on the “History of Massachusetts Blog” on August 31, 2011. The second, “The First Thanksgiving Was Nothing Like What You Were Taught” by John Daniel Davidson was published in “The Federalist” dot com website on November 22, 2017.

These articles look at this bit of history as seen through the political eyes of the native population. One is written with a politically left vision and the other from the right. It is fascinating reading. The same native peoples appear in both accounts and the factual events are nearly identical, but the motivations for the events as told by the two authors are vastly different. It was very educational for me to say the least.

Neither of these perspectives speak to the motivations of the settlers which is what was presented in the history books of my childhood. The popular story is that the Pilgrims put on a feast and invited the natives to attend to thank them for their assistance in teaching them how to fish and hunt the local fowl and animals. The Pilgrims also learned how to use the hides of the animals to make clothing. There was much to be thankful for that year.

I’ll give a very brief historical account as I know it. I’m not vouching for the complete accuracy of what I’m about to say. But I think it is pretty close. You can fact check me. I’m okay with that.

The Pilgrims landed in November 1620 far north of their intended destination in the Virginia Colony. After a failed attempt to head south and go ashore in Virginia, they landed their ship, the Mayflower, in the bay that would become known as Plymouth Bay, Massachusetts. Winter was already upon them and they pretty much stayed on the ship throughout the winter of 1620-21.

In the spring of 1621, they emerged and began treating with the natives. I won’t get into all the details there. The politics are deep. Again, I’ll link to two articles that will give background on politics and motivations of the natives. It wasn’t all roses and daisies on either side. The settlers wanted to survive to fulfil their contracts with those who had sponsored them, as far as I can tell. The natives were trying to recover from a pandemic a few years back and rivals were vying for control of the area. Should they fight these newcomers or help them? What would benefit them the most.

As I mentioned, the natives did help the settlers – of the 102 that made the journey across the ocean, only 41 were the religious sect known as Pilgrims so I will refer to the entire group as “the settlers”. There is a lot more to that story as well. Anyway, the natives helped the settlers with planting, hunting and fishing. That assistance got the settlers through their first spring and summer and produced some provisions for the winter. When the harvest came in, they held a feast in honor of their success. They thanked God for getting them through this very trying ordeal where many died.

Now fast forward to George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation. It was delivered October 3, 1789 and was a one-time event. It was Abraham Lincoln that created the fourth Thursday of November as a national holiday to be held every year. Indeed, there have been many thanksgiving celebrations given in many different parts of the very young country even before Washington’s proclamation. But the text of Washington’s is inspirational. I’ll read it. It’s not that long. I’ll leave a link for this document as well.

“‘Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’

“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

“And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

“Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.”

Do I have time to read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation? Sure, why not? It is also delivered on October 3rd. This time in the year of our Lord 1863 in the midst of the civil war.

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and even soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

“In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

“Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

“No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

“In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth. Abraham Lincoln.”

Final Thoughts

That’s it. I know people say that our founders were not religious; that they didn’t have much to do with religion at all. Some say they were atheists or agnostics. But George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation tells me otherwise. The holiday tradition we know as Thanksgiving is about turning our attention to being grateful for the blessings in our lives. And it truly is about giving thanks to God for each and every one of those blessings. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Let all celebrate as they choose, with or without thanking God, but the truth about this traditional holiday is indisputable. The Pilgrims thanked God. George Washington thanked God. Abraham Lincoln thanked God.

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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Pecking Order

Pecking order and Quail are in the news again today. There is always something new with these little guys. I have so much fun with them. They are very entertaining. However, quail, and all birds and fowl, have a dark side. The “pecking order” occurs in many species of animal. It’s done to establish the dominant animal then the next most dominant, and the next and the next, all the way down to the “low man on the totem pole”. However, the very words “pecking order” have to do with birds pecking each other to establish dominance. Not only the quail, but the cow pecking order is in the podcast today.

Before I get into all of that, I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners. Thank you for joining me. And a hearty welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars. Thank you for stopping by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. Let’s get to it.  

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Garden

The garden is done. I still have some perennial herbs going strong out there, but everything else is done. We need to do lots of cleanup of old, dead plants. The ground cover we used to keep the weeds down will remain in place through the winter. Yes, weeds will survive through the winter and even grow if not kept in check.

After the cleanup, the next details on the garden will be talking about what we plan for next year.

Creamery

Scott has made so much progress with the creamery. All of the open cracks between the blocks have been filled. Additionally, he put a beautiful finish on the concrete blocks. As I mentioned in a previous podcast, it looks a bit like stucco now. That took a lot of extra time and effort. Scott is really good at working on these small touches to add beauty to the building. I say small touches. The idea is small, but the work to make it happen was large, really large.

Today Scott is out there making final measurements for roofing materials. He also has a list of odds and ends kinds of tasks to get the building in tip-top shape.

A week or so ago he moved all of the winter hay under the roof of the loafing area. That’s going to save some money on hay. He got it done just before the latest remnant of a hurricane came through and dropped another three or so inches of rain on us.

Animal Husbandry

Donkeys

The donkeys are getting ready for their hoof trimming appointment. I was talking with Scott about this just this morning. He let me know that in a previous podcast I had said that Johnny was getting better about standing still for his trimming – and he did not see that as a true statement. According to Scott, Johnny is just as stubborn today as he has been since the first day he arrived on the homestead. Then he told me a story about a neighbor and friend who as a couple of donkeys. His hoof trimming story made Scott’s dealings with Johnny look like a walk in the park. It seems there is always someone, somewhere who has a bigger problem. These stories can help with perspective on our challenges.

I’ll put in a little bit about pecking order for all of the animals. Daisy is definitely the matriarch ruler of the donkeys. I don’t know the order beyond that. They tend to hang out in pairs. Daisy and Cocoa are one pair. Johnny and Sweet Pea are the other pair. They are in separate pastures right now so they have no choice but to pair that way. However, when they are together, they still pair up that way. I think Sweet Pea rules in the Sweet Pea/Johnny pairing.

Sheep

There are still two flocks of sheep, but now configured differently. A small flock of five was originally all boys. Now the small flock of five is one boy, Lambert, and his four female companions. The other four boys are with the rest of last year’s lambs and a couple of other ewes that we decided not to breed this year. There are twelve members in that flock. All are doing well, no issues. The sheep have been the easiest of our animals for quite some time now. I don’t know if we have worked out most of the kinks or they are just easier to deal with in general.

Pecking order in the sheep is much harder to see and perhaps they are one of the few animals that do not have one. Sheep hang together as a group better than any of the other animals. They instinctively know that there is power in numbers. If a coyote can get one animal separate, that animal is a goner. So they really huddle together while grazing. The only time I see them jockeying for position is when we have them huddled together. They will butt heads and push each other a little bit there. Watching them move in the field, you can see who the leaders are, the ones that everyone else follows. Again, they tend to stick very close together. One will lead and the rest follow – like sheep. Haha.  

Goats

The goats are the next easiest animal to deal with on our homestead. We have the internal parasites under control. There is only one real issue with them and that is their hooves needing to be trimmed. They tend to become lame from time to time. I’ve said it before. We are going to gradually phase out our current herd of cashmere goats and replace them with a hardier meat breed. One that is known for low parasite loads and low hoof maintenance.

Kiko goats and Spanish goats are the breeds we are considering. Both of these breeds have closer ties to their original, wild state than some of the most popular breeds of goats which have been bred to bring out specific characteristics. Usually either meat or milk. Just like breeding any animal, as you make your genetic choices, some things improve and others get worse. Animals living in the wild are always going to be hardier. Without humans making genetic selections, wild species develop characteristics around one goal. The goal is to survive. In the case of goats, wild species do not have humans there to trim their hooves and treat internal parasites. They must evolve to be resilient, resourceful and efficient in their genetics.

Among the goat girls, I don’t see much pecking order. If pressed, they will huddle together like the sheep. However, if they feel threatened, one or more of them will break away from the herd in different directions. I think they rely on their speed and agility to get away from predators. Coyotes hunt in packs and work best when they separate one animal from the rest. But the goats are fast enough to get away, I think. Anyway, one or more will break away as I said. Then the rest of the herd scatters. Goats are significantly harder to herd than sheep if they get excited. If you keep them calm and gently move them a little at a time, they are not so hard to move.

So I think the goat girls have a much subtler pecking order. If we were working them closely like we do the cows, we might see it more. We don’t have goat boys anymore, but there was definitely a pecking order there. Appomattox was king and Roanoke was prince. Everybody else was down from there. Sometimes I miss the boys. They were all so regal with their long, curled horns.

Cows

The calves are completely weaned from milk. They are out there grazing on grass full time now. The preg checks on the girls are done and we have five of six that are pregnant. It is as we expected. Buttercup is not pregnant. We were pretty sure that was the case but it is nice to know for sure. Our newest heifer, Rosie, is pregnant. She was bred at a very young age so I got some really good advice from the vet about how to help her through the process. The central bit of advice is that she needs to grow.

Rosie will get extra feed all winter. She was getting just a taste to get her trained to put her head in the milking stanchion. However, the vet recommended she gets lots of extra feed with at least 14% protein, as much as she wants without getting fat. We don’t want her to get fat because that would complicate the birth as well, but she needs to grow. She needs to get bigger. The extra feed will help her with that. We give her the best feed available. It is non-soy, non-gmo organic dairy feed, 15% protein.

Scott and I had this long discussion on how to feed Rosie while not feeding the rest of the herd. We are a grass-fed operation for the most part. The big girls get a little supplement while they are producing milk. Other than that, it is grass year-round with supplemental hay in the winter. That’s it.

In order to get Rosie the extra feed she needs a separate pasture area is required. We need to keep her close to be able to get feed to her efficiently. Now who to put with her as a companion? The calves are too small. She has already shown she will bully them so we can’t put Rosie with the calves. The calves will get merged into the big girl herd as soon as those big girls stop producing milk. Moving the calves frees up that pasture area. It’s close. We can easily keep an eye on Rosie.

Should we put the two Jerseys together? Butter is high in the pecking order and Rosie is low man on the totem pole being the youngest and latest addition to the herd. Rosie will not bully Butter. Could Butter be the one to be a companion for Rosie? Naw. Butter would simply bowl her over and grab her feed.

After some little discussion, we decided that Buttercup is the perfect choice as companion for Rosie. Unlike Butter, who will bowl over anyone who gets between her and feed, Buttercup is the opposite and pretty ambivalent towards anything but grass. Oh, she will eat her supplements, but she is not eager. Rosie will get her feed and Buttercup will just keep grazing and may not even notice. Any of the other cows would immediately come up and start competing for that feed. Hopefully, it will work out as we have envisioned it. If not, we will come up with another plan.

One other note on pecking order amongst the cows. Once the calves get added to the main herd, Rosie will no longer be low man. At least until the calves are full grown. If Virginia and Luna get bigger than Rosie – and they will – Rosie may end up back at the bottom again. We shall see. Butter is smaller than Violet and also a fairly recent addition to the herd, but I’m pretty sure Violet is only one step higher than Rosie. Butter pushes Violet around at will. Claire will always be matriarch and Buttercup right behind her, or maybe Cloud. Those two are close in dominance. Violet, Butter and Rosie are down the line. I don’t know all of their criteria for order of dominance, but it is quite educational to watch it all happen.

Milking

We have three more days of milking and then we are done for this year. There is always a sigh of relief as the final day of milking is complete. The constant, every day, no breaks schedule of milking is not for the faint of heart. Some people do it year-round. Twice a day, every day, 365 days a year. That’s not for us. We love our cows. And we love our milk and dairy products. But we don’t love it so much that we give up our entire lives for it. Nope. We have a plan for making a living and milking seasonally.

Maybe some time in the far future we will sell our little dairy and someone else will come in and want to a milk a larger herd of cows, every day, 7 day-a-week, 365-days a year. They will have the setup to do that as well. We have created a creamery with lots of flexibility to scale up as needed. We could scale it up if the need arose. Right now, the business plan is seasonal milking. We have three more days of milking and then we are done for this year.

Skim Milk and Yogurt

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been freezing skim milk. Scott will drink it after we run out of fresh whole milk and I now have enough to see him through the winter. The final six gallons went into the freezer this morning. Whole milk does not freeze well. The cream separates and get lumpy. It doesn’t incorporate back into the milk very well. I’ve heard stories of people making it work, but I never have been able to do it. Even thawing it very slowly and shaking it up a lot. The cream is just changed by the freezing process and there is no going back.

I will still be making yogurt for a few more days. There are seven quarts in each batch stored in 14 pint containers with tight lids. The yogurt is an experiment to see how long it will last in the refrigerator. I’m making enough for three or four months. Will it be edible three of four months from now? I don’t know. We’ll keep you up-to-date on that as we progress through the winter. In the end, we will know exactly how long we can keep yogurt and that’s useful information.

Quail

Now on to the quail and their pecking order. I don’t know if there is another animal that is as vicious as birds when it comes to pecking order. Sure, they are cute and fun to watch. But turn your back and the next thing you know they are pecking so much they actually injure one another. We had just that scenario recently.

There is only one white bird among all of the other shades of brown birds. A little over a week ago, she got injured. Her head was bleeding just a bit. The next day I went out there and the other birds had severely injured her, literally scalping her. Once they had the taste of blood in their mouth, they just kept going and going. I quickly got her out of there and into private lodging. She is healing up but it is going to take a long time. Especially when there was quite a set-back. One of the birds was obviously in distress with mites. So we were cleaning out all of the cages, disinfecting them and treating the birds and cages for parasites.

We moved all of the birds out of the cages and into the various plastic boxes we use as brooders for young birds. I put the white one back in with her original group just to see how it would go. Not a good idea. After only a couple of hours, she was bloodied again. Naturally, she is back in her private domain once again.

The other bird that was showing signs of parasite infestation has been removed from her group as well. It was a few days before we got the permethrin we needed to treat the birds and cages, so I moved her away from the others. While cleaning the cages, we put her back in with her former cage companions. Same couple of hours and she had a small bit of blood on top of her beak. I decided immediately that she needed to be separated until that healed. The blood is just too tempting for these guys. Again, birds are vicious. And remember, even though you can buy chicken eggs in the grocery store that say “vegetarian fed”, birds are NOT vegetarians. They are very carnivorous, though they will eat veggies as well. You will recall the stories of the early bird getting the worm while you were growing up. That story meant to teach promptness to children. However, it also illustrates that birds like worms. They also like bugs. Birds are not vegetarian.

Anyway, I really love my quail. They are a joy to watch. But they are still animals. They exhibit animalistic tendencies. Make no mistake, they have a pecking order and only the strong survive. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep my one white hen. She may be too different from the others. She may be low man on the totem pole because of her color. I don’t know. I’ll still make the effort to get her healed and back with her group. But if it happens again, I’ll have to make a different choice for her. It would be cruel to continue to let her be pecked so badly. Sometimes the only choices are tough ones.  

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s Peaceful Heart Farmcast. As usual, there is a lot going on at the homestead. Always something new, something different. Life is filled with wonder and awe at nature and God’s creation. The hierarchy of the animal kingdom is alive and well. It has worked for thousands of years to bring us and our animal friends to this point in time. We fully expect the pecking order to ensure that life continues to the end of time. Sometimes it’s ugly. Just as our lives can be tough. But we all do the best we can with what we have. We cry and pray and hope to live to see another day.  

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Sheep Breeding

Breeding sheep is one of the most enjoyable enterprises on our homestead. Sheep were the first animals we introduced back in 2010. They have been a central part of our operation since then. I’ll talk about that today.

Welcome new listeners and welcome back veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. Thank you all so much for listening. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Before we get to the sheep, what else is going on here on the homestead?

Creamery

The holes in the walls are still being filled in by Scott. Who knew it was going to take this much time to complete that task? Well, the building is rather large and parts of it are very high. That requires special ladders and scaffolding and such to be able to reach the tallest parts of the walls. Additionally, Scott is finishing the concrete block walls in such a way that they resemble stucco. It takes a bit more time and effort but the result is quite beautiful. I’m very pleased with the effect. I can’t wait to see it painted. Maybe a nice off-white stucco color to enhance the look. We shall see. I actually leave color decisions to Scott. I have no head for decorating. Thank God he has a wonderful head for it. Everything he builds reflects his eye for beauty, symmetry, style, color and so much more.

Quail

We now have seven breeding sets of quail. Count them, seven. We made a day of it. Somewhere along the line we lost one that I didn’t know about. The final count in the penthouse was 56 birds. We processed 32 of them and kept 24 additional birds for eggs.

Fowl or Foul?

After finishing the processing, we went back out to their cages and took every single bird out of their cages. Scott spent lots of time cleaning up those cages and getting them sanitized for the winter. Have you even wondered why birds are called fowl? Well there is another spelling of the word foul and it has to do with awful smells. I tend to think that this is why birds are referred to as fowl. All birds have to have their roosts, cages and runs cleaned regularly. Otherwise, they smell foul. Well, there is always some smell from time to time no matter what you do. Take that into consideration when planning the location of your chicken and/or quail homes.

Lighting

Another addition to the quail housing was adding lights. They will now have light for 14 hours a day. That is what is required for them to produce eggs. The new girls have yet to lay a single egg and the older hens, 15 of them, were down to producing no more than six to eight eggs per day. Even that would have dropped to zero or nearly zero in the near future. Inadequate amounts of light make feeding your birds through the winter counter-productive.

There is an automatic timer on the lights. It comes on at 4 am and will stay on until 6 pm. So even on a dreary day like today, they have plenty of light. We use bulbs that produce the “daylight” spectrum of light. It’s not quite the same as most grow lights. Well, I take that back. I think lots of grow lights are going to the daylight spectrum to more closely emulate growing plants outdoors. The same for the birds. We want them to have as natural a light as possible.

Egg Production

Because we have seven sets of breeders, that means there are 35 hens out there. If those lights work like we hope, we could potentially have 35 eggs per day in a couple of weeks. It will take at least a week and perhaps two for the light to affect their egg production. In addition to the light, they get lots of good nutrition and supplements to make sure they have everything they need to be healthy and productive.

Donkeys

I got to say hi to the donkeys a couple of times in the last few days. I haven’t been seeing too much of them as my homestead tasks have led me elsewhere. It’s so good to see them up close and personal. And they are personal. Donkeys love humans. They love human attention. And we love giving it to them. It won’t be long and they will be getting another bit of attention that is not so popular with them, but necessary. Hoof trimming.

Yes, they need to get their toenails done. Scott handles the nail salon and I just offer comfort while the uncomfortable deed is accomplished. All are getting more and more used to it. Daisy nearly falls asleep while it’s going on where Johnny and Cocoa still have some real fear issues with it. They are getting better each time. We shall see how it goes this time. Maybe they will have completely overcome their fear just like Daisy and Sweet Pea.

Cows and Calves

The cow girls are doing fantastic. Rosie has integrated well into the herd. She is low-man on the totem pole, as would be expected. But she is getting along with everyone and thriving in her new environment. Scott is training her and retraining Cloud to come into the milking shed and stick their heads into the milking stanchion. This is in preparation for the vet to do pregnancy checks on all of the girls. The milking stanchions are very convenient for restraining our girls in comfort while medical checks and treatments are performed. I think I’ll ask Scott about cutting off Rosie’s horns too. Once she is used to putting her head in the stanchion, we can easily saw off those horns of hers. It’s quick and painless but she will definitely need to be restrained for her safety and ours.

Calf Weaning

We are nearing the time when the calves will be completely weaned. A week or so ago, I stopped giving them their second bottle of whole milk in the evening. At the present time they get ½ gallon of whole milk only in the morning. In the evening they get ½ gallon of skim milk. As soon as my stores of skim milk run out, they will only get whole milk in the morning. That will last for a week or so and then no milk at all.

Drying up the Milk Cows

We are still milking the big girls twice a day but that is about to change. Their milk becomes less and less as the days go on, the longer they go into their milking cycle. The quality of the milk also changes as they get later into their lactation cycle. Soon it will be time to dry them up. That means we will go to only milking once a day, then once every other day and finally stopping altogether. More details on that in a later podcast. We will start that process in a week or so.

Garden and Fruits

We are still waiting on that first frost. The garden is still going. Scott said he thought that first frost might come in the next couple of days, as soon as the rain from the remnants of hurricane Zeta stops. I didn’t want the lima beans to be soaked at the same time I was forced to pick them before a frost. So I did what any other sane homesteader would do. I rushed out there this morning before the rain started and picked everything. Literally, I pulled up the plant, stripped the bean pods and piled the spent plants to the side. It only took a little while and I’m glad to get that part done. The pods were actually still wet from the last rain we had from the remnants of hurricane Delta. At least I think that one was as hurricane. I have the beans laid out on newspaper to dry.

Lots of Storms

Can you believe the number of named storms this year? I think this is the first time in my 65 years that we have gone completely through the alphabet and now five letters, so far, into the Greek alphabet. We still have another month to go in the official tropical storm/hurricane season. Eleven have hit the US coast as either a tropical storm or hurricane. Most were relatively small. Tropical storms or category one or two hurricanes. Laura was a category 4 hurricane. I believe six storms have hit the gulf coast, mostly Louisiana. Pray for them. Even category one and two hurricanes can bring lots of water damage and some wind damage.

Okay, that was a bit of a tangent. Back to the garden. I also picked a few tomatoes. I know, I know. I’m supposed to be done with the tomatoes. But there were a few that looked really good so I snagged them. I have quite a few avocadoes in the frig and some guacamole always sounds good to me. It will be missing that lovely fresh cilantro taste as all of those plants died, but we will make do somehow.

Peppers and Celery

A couple of days ago I picked peppers yet again. I have plenty of jalapeno for the guac. I have so many peppers in the refrigerator. I really, really need to get cracking on getting the pepper jam completed and drying the rest in the dehydrator.

Speaking of dehydrating. I grew all of that celery to be dried as well. That needs to be harvested but I wasn’t too worried about it being wet. The wetness will help keep it fresh as I work my way through the entire crop. Other things on the dehydrating list include, basil, parsley, oregano and thyme.

Grapes and Strawberries

Scott brought me a few grapes to try out. They are muscadine. We get a few more each year, but still not many to speak of at this point in their maturity. Soon, very soon, that will change. Looking forward to making grape jam and maybe some muscadine wine.  

The strawberries have survived the onslaught of weeds and are blooming once again. Those are tough little plants. I have a plan for them for next year. More on that later.

Sheep Breeding

Let’s talk about sheep breeding. A couple of days ago I was talking with Scott about the sheep breeding schedule and what we need to do to accomplish our goals. Well first was clarifying and getting on the same page with goals. We had already discussed this so it was a matter of recalling the final decision.

Ewe in Heat

A funny anecdote related to sheep breeding talk was the ewe that was eager to get started. Just about the time we were discussing our plan, this ewe was hanging out all by herself near the closet fence to the boys. She was really persistent. Number one, ewes nearly always stay together. Nobody goes off on her own. They are skittish and careful animals. But this young lady was actively looking for romance.

I walked almost right up to her before she moved away. I was walking down the travel lane on my way to bring up the cow girls for milking. And there she was, hanging out near the gate, mooning over the boys that she could see across the field, but could not get to. I walked up to her and she finally moved away a few feet. She walked along the lane for 20 feet or so, then she stopped and looked around at me to see if I was still coming. I was. She turned and went other 20 feet of so before stopping yet again, just to make sure I was still there and that it would be impossible for her to get around me. This ewe was really persistent. She continued this behavior all the way back to the main flock.

Persistent Ewe in Heat

She stayed with the rest of the flock while I rounded up the girls and began the trek back to the milking shed. About the time I got up to the holding area and closed the fence that keeps the cows in while they await their turn at milking, she was back down there at the corner mooning over the boys yet again. Don’t worry honey, you’ll get your chance in just a few more days the great switcheroo of animals will begin. The boys will stay with the girls for most of the winter. Sometime in late spring we will separate the boys again and put all of the girls back together. Then we await the most glorious event of spring. The birthing of lambs.

Which Ewes Will We Breed?

There are currently 12 ewes in the flock. We are going to breed four of them. These will be the four older ewes. That means we can expect up to eight lambs in the spring. We had ten last year, but that came about because we just bred all of them, young and old. A first-year ewe usually has a single lamb. And sometimes older ewes will have only one lamb as well. However, it is more common that the second year and each year thereafter, a ewe will have twins and sometimes triplets.

Last year, three of the older girls had twins, one older girl had a single, another older girl did not have one at all and all three of the young girls had singles. That was five older ewes. Since then we have eliminated the oldest ewe and will be going with the four ewes between three and five-years-old. This is the current makeup of our main breeder flock. The three younger ewes will not be bred again. The reason for that is Lambert, our new breeding ram, is a ½ sibling to two of them and full sibling to one of them. That simply won’t work if we want to maintain strong genetics.

What Will We Do?

In order to accomplish only breeding the four selected ewes, it means we need to bring them all in, separate the ones that will be bred from the rest of the flock and put these two groups into separate spaces. Then we bring up the boys and introduce them to the breeding ewes. We can put all of the boys in with the breeding girls because only one of them is still intact. That would be Lambert. He is our breeding ram. This will be his first season. I will pray that he does well. We could also put the boys other than Lambert in with the ewes that are not being bred this year. That would require a second routine to get Lambert separated from the other boys. Scott will make that call when we get to that point.

There are so many decisions that go into every activity on our homestead. Each one has pros and cons. Making the same decision one year may not be the same as the previous year. Circumstances are always changing. I was listening to Kanye West in his interview with Joe Rogan talking about how hard it is to farm. He is attempting to come up with better methods to provide good nutrition to the poorer population. Farming is so much more than putting some seeds in the ground and waiting for them to grow. The same with animals. It is so much more than just putting them out there in the pasture and watching them graze. Every decision is a well-thought-out plan to fulfill a current need. Those needs are always evolving. Some decisions turn out to be counterproductive. But there is always next year and new opportunities to improve.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s podcast. I hope you enjoyed the trip around the homestead. It is always my pleasure to share our peace and joy with you. Perhaps you’ve gotten some new ideas on what to do for your own dreams and perhaps you just came along for the ride. In any case, we’ll keep you in the loop.

We are heading into late fall and winter. Likely I’ll slow down a little and perhaps only podcast a couple of times a month. The spring and summer are always so full. Slowing down for winter is just another way we work in harmony with nature.

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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