I’m Back From My Podcast Vacation

I’m back from my podcast vacation. It has been three months since I recorded anything. We were both very, very busy and the things that keep the homestead financially solvent become front and center. It’s good to be back in front of the microphone.

Let me take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners. The subscriber numbers continued to go up even though I was absent. Again, thank you so much. And a big welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I truly appreciate each and every one of you. I’m not sure how much I’m going to include in today’s episode. As I said, it has been three months and a whole lotta stuff has happened in that time.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Those of you that are members of our Locals.com community will have heard about some of the things I’m going to talk. That’s thanks to Scott. He posts weekly about the cows and the creamery. If you’d like to hear his perspective, go to peacefulheartfarm.locals. com and join our community. It’s free to sign up. We also have specific data that is for subscribers only. Also, anyone can read, watch and listen, but only subscribers can comment and make their own posts to the community. There is a minimal fee $5 per month to subscribe, though you can support us at whatever level you choose. And again, read, watch, listen for free.

A shout out and huge “Thank You” to our Locals supporters. You help us keep going. Again, for those of you interested in more content, the address is peaceful heart farm. Locals. com.

Let’s start with the cows. The centerpiece of our operation as a small dairy and creamery.

Cows

Breeding season with artificial insemination began the last week of May. In August, when I last published a podcast, we had one confirmed pregnancy with a second AI procedure in progress, waiting on preg confirmation the first week of September. Today, we STILL have only one confirmed pregnancy and the last AI appointment for this cycle was completed about three weeks ago. We have spent hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars on this AI process. I believe there have been a total of three tries. We have to work with the vet’s schedule so the timeframes have stretched long.

The second attempt produced three or four additional pregnancies and we set up the third AI appointment to try and get the four remaining cows impregnated. The second attempt girls were preg checked with ultrasound and three or four confirmed. However, before the next AI session, they all aborted. The aborts were likely related to a spirochete infection that is spread via deer urine. We treated all the cows. The next AI appointment was scheduled so we could start all over again and get them cycling all at the same time. Time just kept moving forward and here we are in November and still only one confirmed pregnancy. The third attempt is completed.

Last AI Vet Visit

The vet will come again a few days after Thanksgiving to see where we stand. One of the reasons this has stretched so long is the vet waits 65 days or so to be able to confirm pregnancy with ultrasound. We already know that only two have not come into heat again. Five have been bred by Ferdinand. We can tell because of what are called “heat stickers” If they get mounted, the stickers are rubbed clean and the underlying fluorescent orange becomes visible. That means possibly two out of seven on this last try.

So why do I keep saying it is the last try? Well, that’s because we finally bit the bullet and bought the bull I just mentioned. We purchased Ferdinand about a month ago. He’s a gorgeous guernsey bull. Of course, this is not ideal because our plan is to have 100% registered Normande dairy herd. But we had to do something just to get calves so the cows would be in milk.

We can’t support the herd shares and make cheese without lactating cows and we don’t have lactating cows if they don’t give birth to calves every so often. Even if we are able to continue milking them, their milk production continuously declines the farther they are from their last delivery. We don’t know how long they will produce milk before they naturally dry up. Some say around 12 months. Others say they have had cows lactate for two years. We may just find the answer to that question for our girls.

Ferdinand is Our Hope of Success

The bottom line is that Ferdinand will get our girls pregnant and we will have milk in the fall of 2023. Most of the calves out of Ferdinand will be sold as they won’t add to our goal of a 100% Normande herd. I believe I talked about our particular plan was to always have calves in the spring and not milk in the winter. That plan has been completely turned on its head. We may end up milking year-round for a little while. I won’t explain the details here, but it requires going without calves again for more than a year. It may work out just fine, but it will take time. Again, keeping up with the herd shares and having milk to make cheese is the priority, whatever it takes. Otherwise, we simply cannot remain financially viable.

Nickle is on Deck

On the upside, we have a registered purebred Normande bull named Nickle that was born in April this year. We kept him intact because a neighbor wanted to buy him after he was weaned. In the end, we backed out of that sale because we do actually live and learn. We will keep Nickle around for at least two or three years, perhaps more, before replacing him with another. Ferdinand will likely have another chance next year as we expect Nickle to be still too small to get the job done.

It was a good idea on paper to not keep a bull around and feed him hay through the winter for just two months of work in the early summer. AI seemed to be the best way to go – and to be sure, we have not given up on that completely. However, our AI experience has now shown us the necessity of keeping a bull.

Scott Needs to Learn the AI Procedure

The first two years we used AI, I believe we had about a 50% success rate on the first try. And that’s pretty average according to the stats. But this last go round has been a nightmare – a very costly nightmare. So where do we go from here?

The plan is for Scott to learn how to do AI himself. There are workshops available and he will be attending one sometime in the future. I’m sure he will be very good at this task. He has a strong medical background. Right now, he is still very busy with building the creamery (more on that later), and with the bull, we are good-to-go for breeding at this point.

As we get to the place in our journey where Scott can act quickly when a cow comes into heat and we are not reliant on the vet to perform the procedure, I believe AI will once again become a good fit for us. We will still keep a bull on hand. A bull is going to be needed if we expect to keep our calving season in a specific window of time. Ok, enough about the cows.

Dogs

Have I got a story for you regarding the dogs? It is pretty wild. I’ll start from where I left off, but stay until the end. About a week ago, something crazy happened.

We started with three livestock guardian dogs. Mack was born and raised with sheep and cows. His owners sold all of their livestock and Mack needed a new home. Charlotte and Finn were guarding chickens and turkeys and their owners also decided to get out of the business. Let’s talk about Mack first.

Food Aggression

I have mentioned several times that Mack is a great dog, but food or resource aggressive. In the last episode I talked about trying to get him to bond with the sheep and getting the sheep to be okay with him in their space. And I talked about how he barked and growled at them to keep them away from his food. Well, that situation escalated a bit because Charlotte also became food aggressive and the two of them went at each other’s throats twice before I separated them.

Finn disappeared and Charlotte ended up hanging with Mack and the sheep. The first time there was an incident, I saw Mack go to Charlotte’s bowl. He was finished eating and she was goofing off with a treat a few feet away from her bowl. As she saw him invade her bowl, she went after him. It was pretty intense for about 5 or 10 seconds. She won that battle and I thought it was over. Fast forward a few weeks. They have now been moved a couple times. They go with the sheep when the sheep need to move. They are all back in paddock #8 when it happened again. This time Charlotte tried to eat out of Mack’s bowl. They went at it again for 5 or 10 seconds. It’s a really scary thing to see. They definitely meant business. The next day, Mack would not approach his bowl when I brought it to him. I knew that was very wrong.

Progress at Last

After a quick consultation and a post to the Livestock Guardian Dog Training Facebook page, I was informed they were both now food aggressive and needed to be fed separately or it would end badly, with one of them cowed and skinny or dead. I immediately began taking Mack completely out of the pasture and over to the garden area before giving him his bowl. The garden is fenced so he could not wander very far and he is easily moved from one place to another. I gave Charlotte her bowl in the pasture well away from the livestock.

Mack always eats right away. Charlotte did not. But she is a very smart girl. It only took one time of me picking up that bowl and walking away with it and not returning until the next day for her to learn that when I bring it, she needs to eat it. We have not had a problem since.

This change of feeding practice has changed everything. This change provided such an immediately productive outcome that I was, and still am, elated. I talk a lot about our challenges with one thing and another here on the homestead. And when one challenge is not only overcome but produces this kind of productive outcome, I’m on cloud nine. Within days of beginning the new feeding regimen, these two dogs became the best of friends. Charlotte was immediately willing to work with and hang out with Mack. Up until then, she had been aloof with Mack. And better than that, she started becoming more friendly toward me.

Charlotte is My Friend

It has been a while since I talked about this, but all of our dogs have had some kind of issue that I deal with on a daily basis. Charlotte’s issue was that she would not let anyone near her. We had to trap her in smaller and smaller areas just to get close enough for the vet to examine her. She is a really beautiful Great Pyrenees and I just wanted to love on her. It was frustrating that she would never let me close. A few weeks after the change between her and Mack, she started to change her attitude toward me as well.

Oddly, she still runs away from me and won’t let me touch her when I bring her food. But when I come at any other time and even after she finishes her food, she lets me pet her now. She will still shy away if I move too quickly, but I’m so pleased to be able to actually pet her. And this morning, while I was out checking on the baby goats (more on that later), she actually put her paw on me to get my attention while I was looking away at the sheep. She touched me. Twice she did this. I feel so blessed to have finally made so much progress with her. It has been just barely over a year since we got her and finally, she will let me love her.

Finn is Back

Now for the bombshell. Finn is back. Some of you are new and have no idea what I am talking about. Here’s the scoop. Last year when we got Charlotte, another dog also came with the package. Some of you will remember him but I’ll recap here for all the newbies.

Finn is an Anatolian/Great Pyrenees cross. He is like a big cuddly bear. As I said, there are challenges will all of our dogs. They were all rehomed to us as adults and, as is common, they have not been the perfect livestock guardian dogs that we imagined. Many of the posts on the Livestock Guardian Dog Facebook page are about issues with rehomed or rescued dogs and the consensus is that these dogs are always a roll of the dice as to whether they will actually work with your livestock and your operation. It is just about the only option, though, if you want an adult dog. With a puppy, it is two years before it can be trusted alone with the livestock. Anyway, Finn’s vice is that he roams. It was impossible to keep him inside our perimeter fence. And that fence was built to contain goats. But goats got nothing on a dog that loves to roam.

Finn’s Story

In the first six months of his time with us, he escaped at least three or four times. Luckily, I had immediately gotten tags for all of the dogs that have our farm name and phone number printed on them. He may have escaped even more than four times, now that I think about it. Three times we got a call from a neighbor and we had to go pick him up. One time he was about five miles away. I’m pretty sure there were other times when he didn’t go far and we were able to get him back home quickly. It’s hard to remember, so much has happened since then. It seemed like he escaped every day.

About six months ago, he escaped and never returned and there were no calls from a neighbor to tell us where to pick him up. Up to that point, he had never been gone for more than a day or two before someone called us. Six months ago, he disappeared. We grieved the loss. Charlotte grieved the loss also. Then, about a week ago, Scott found him walking along the fence line near the road. It was easy to get him to come inside the fence and he is happily residing with Charlotte once again. Is that not the most amazing thing? Six months and he just showed up. His tag with our farm name and number was missing. Did someone keep him for themselves? I never thought that was possible. Mainly because he was impossible to contain and he would have escaped from that person also. We will probably never know.

Finn’s Health Upon His Return

He was covered with more cockleburs than I have ever seen and his left eye is injured. He will not hold it open. I tried a couple of times to cut out the cockleburs but he was having none of it. We were exploring ways to be able to get this done without him biting us. The point became moot. He cleared those cockleburs himself within two or three days. I have no idea how he got the giant mat of them from under his neck. I can see how he probably pulled them off of his legs and I had successfully clipped them free from his back. There are still a few and it is good to know he is so good at keeping his coat clean. Anyway, he is a little thin and has that issue with his eye and I’m monitoring that, but otherwise he looks good.

What Happened with Mack?

There is one other bit to throw in here. Only a few days before his return, we had decided that Mack was simply not going to work with the sheep. He kept charging at them to exert his dominance. He didn’t really chase them, but he would bark and run toward them until they moved, then he would stop and trot away. Then he killed a chicken and that was sort of the last straw, though it was not all his fault.

The chickens go anywhere they want and I was worried in the beginning about him chasing them. Charlotte was guarding chickens at the farm where we picked her up so I was not worried about her. Anyway, it only took about two weeks before my fear was realized. I went down to feed him and he did not come when I called. I found him guarding his prize. She was not quite dead, but mortally wounded. We processed her and put him back in with the cows and left Charlotte with the sheep.

Charlotte and the Sheep

Charlotte was doing fairly well with the sheep, though she is actually afraid of the them. She runs if they come close. But she was staying in their general vicinity as they mosey around the pasture grazing. So, when Finn returned, we put him back in with her and the sheep. What else could we do? The paddock she was currently occupying seemed to satisfy her – she used to escape just about every day also, but she seemed to be bonding with the sheep to the point of actively protecting them even if she did still run from them. And she stayed in the pasture with them.

When Finn arrived back on the scene, she went immediately up on the hill where the sheep were grazing. She greeted Finn but seemed to have no interest in him and returned to her job. That was the first day. It didn’t last. Now a week later, she has warmed up to Finn again and is not really staying with the sheep anymore. That was our original problem that led to the final escape of Finn. We had given up on Charlotte and Finn being useful for guarding the sheep. They were more attached to each other than the livestock. They bark much more when they are together than Charlotte alone. And they both escaped regularly. We were looking to rehome them and just work with Mack.

That was the fateful time when Finn escaped and did not return. As I said, both Charlotte and Finn escaped regularly, but Charlotte was always right back in the morning or sometimes even the same evening. Every time we moved them to a new place where they had never been, we spent days finding and fortifying their escape routes. On that fateful day, we put them in the orchard while we moved Mack in with the sheep. This was their first time there and it was not fortified. Less than half an hour in the orchard and they were gone. Charlotte returned before dark and Finn was gone for six months.

It is good to have him back, but we are back to square one. In the end, Mack didn’t work out with the sheep any more than Finn and Charlotte.

We Still Have Issues

I know I’ve rambled on and on about our defective livestock guardian dogs. And we may still have to make some hard decisions. You probably realize that at this point, I’m really attached to all of them. Now, only a week after his return, Finn has converted Charlotte back to her original self. She escapes and goes wherever she wants, never staying where we put her, not really staying with the sheep. She hangs with Finn.

So far, Finn escaped a couple of times but seems to be secure at the moment after Scott spent time patching up his escape locations. Not so with Charlotte. She could always get out no matter what we did. But again, she always came right back so she was not so much of a worry. Without Finn, she had stopped that behavior. I have no doubt that Finn will eventually escape again and he may disappear again.

We are back to square one with all three dogs. My rational self tells me that we need to get some actual livestock guardian dogs that will work with our animals. And then my emotional self can’t seem to get moving on that, can’t seem to imagine being without them. Sigh.

Enough of that. Let’s talk about the goats.

Kiko Goats

I’m not going to say a lot about the goats as the podcast will get too long and I want to talk a bit about the chickens and the creamery.

We have had our new registered 100% New Zealand Kiko goats for a little over a month. They are so cute. Rhuarc is the buck. The does are Amys and Lian. All of those names will become familiar to you if you watch Amazon’s Wheel of Time series. At least I hope they will. I’m not happy about what they are doing with my all-time favorite book series as they adapt it to the screen. Not true to the books at all and those names may never appear in the screen adaptation. But there is always the books.

These are beautiful animals and they came from a great Kiko goat operation right here in Patrick County Virginia. The farm owner is a wonderful woman with a wealth of knowledge about this breed of goat. She has a couple hundred.

Small Challenge

The only challenge I have had so far is getting them tamed down a little bit. We definitely did not want a repeat of the last goats that we had that ran from us wildly for the first couple of years. This time we put them in a 16’ x 16’ pen where we could begin to make friends with them before sending them out to the larger acreage.

The buck is now separated from the does. They are not old enough to be bred though at this point it is likely possible. So, the plan is to keep them separated for a few months until the does get old enough to be bred. Rhuarc now comes up to me and eats out of my hand. I can’t actually catch him up, but he does not run wildly in every direction when he sees me as they all did in the beginning.

This plan has worked out really well. Just this morning I let Lian and Amys out of their pen into the paddock with the sheep. I introduced the dogs to them. Both seemed quite disinterested so that was good. It was important that they not hurt my new babies. So far, so good. That’s about all I have to say about the goats. I’ll check on them in just a few minutes. I pray all is well on their first day out.

Chickens

Moving on to the chickens. To recap, we have two breeds. Black Copper Marans and American White Bresse. The Marans lay chocolate brown eggs and the Bresse lay tan eggs. I’m not happy with the current egg production. I was looking for more eggs, but the jury is still out on whether we move forward with these breeds or switch to another.

I hatched 14 Bresse and 9 Marans. When they reached maturity, we processed the excess roosters. There were 8 Bresse roosters and we processed 6 of those. We were blessed with six Maran hens, exactly what I wanted, and we kept two of the three roosters.

The Chicken Plan

Right now, the rooster-to-hen ratio is way off. We need lots more hens. That will come in the spring when we hatch out lots of baby chicks. We wanted to have backup roosters but now I think that if we lose a rooster, we could just buy another group of chicks and raise a new rooster. That is the likely path we will take. In the next processing cycle, we will downsize to just one rooster of each breed.

These are great chickens. Well, I can say that chickens in general are very interesting creatures. And they are easy to care for and maintain. The American White Bresse are a special breed that has been bred to eat milk-soaked grain in the last two weeks before processing. Their meat becomes almost like marbled beef – or so they say. We haven’t tried it yet. We processed that first batch without the milk-soaked feed.

That’s it for the chickens. I’m not going to talk about the garden and orchard. They are going to sleep for the winter. I do have some thoughts there, but not for this podcast.

Creamery

Let me finish up by talking about the progress on the creamery. We are nearing the end. The light at the end of the tunnel is now visible. Floors, electrical, plumbing and hooking up the gas will finish it out. I expect we will be a USDA inspected cheesemaking plant in the spring. That’s about six years from start to finish on this project. Without Scott’s bout with cancer last year, I would have been able to say five years. I am so blessed that he is fine now. So, six instead of five is just fine with me. It was a bit of a scare and a very tough season of life for him, but he is strong and healthy and continuing on with the crowning creation of his life. I hope you will visit once we open for business and see all that he has done.

Tile Floors

Currently, Scott is in a race with the weather. He is working on the tile floors. Both the glue that holds the tile to the concrete floor and the grout that goes between the tiles are temperature sensitive. The temps need to be above 50 in order for the chemical processes to work effectively. As of today, he has all the tiles in place and is working on completing the grout. That is going to take several days. I’m not sure how many. He has probably posted about it on the Locals page. It’s hard for me to keep up with the exact days, especially when it can change on a daily basis if something goes awry or another task for the animals takes president. Caring for the animals always comes first. 

Electrical and Plumbing

Once he has completed those floors, I believe he will go back to the electrical. If I remember correctly, he said he is about 50% done with the electrical. The next big thing is the plumbing.

He wanted to contract that out. It has probably been nine months since he started trying to find someone to do the work. That was like pulling teeth. No one was even willing to take on the job. No one had the time. Then when he did find someone, the bid was double what he expected to pay. We found that out just yesterday. At this point, he is back to having to do it himself. That means lots more time with YouTube videos and phone consultations with his brother in Florida. This makes me sad, but I also know he will get through it. My Scott is a tough guy and very goal oriented. He will get it done, whatever it takes.

Large Cheese Cave on Hold

He does have one room that is sitting untouched. The large cheese cave will not be completed until after the initial USDA inspected status is completed. Once winter sets in, he won’t be able to do the tile in that room until the spring. Until then, we have the small cheese cave functional and available.

I’m going to end it here. There is a lot more I could say but this has already gone long. You can find lots more information on the creamery posted on our Locals platform. That’s peacefulheartfarm.locals.com. Scott is always uploading videos of the animals and his work on the creamery.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s podcast. It feels good to be back. Things are slowing down for me for the winter, though there is still a lot to do. I hope to get back on schedule with regular podcasts. Even in the winter there are exciting things going on here at the homestead. Scott will continue his hectic schedule even through the winter. I am feeling the excitement of this project coming to fruition.

Even with all the challenges of getting the cows bred and dealing with our less-than-perfect livestock guardian dogs, we keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I went on and on about the dogs I know and there is still so much that I did not say. I hope you enjoyed life on our homestead through my eyes and that you will continue to follow our journey as we build on our homestead dreams.

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

And come on over to our Locals community. Subscribe at peacefulheartfarm.locals.com. We’d love to have your support and input in the community. And we’d love to help you out by answering your questions. I’ll be posting another episode in the productivity series that I started on the Locals platform. The first was on concentration and the next will be on developing and maintaining memory. See you there!

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

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Multitasking on the Homestead

Multitasking. How do I get so much done in one day? This is a question I get often. I do a lot of multitasking on the homestead. I didn’t just wake up one day and do this. There was a process that I went through to get from a scattered, unfocused, ineffective person to one who can just get things done. Now of course, I’m not always in that zone and there are days when I’m going into a room and wondering why I am there, multiple times a day. There are remedies to the unfocused mind. And I’m going to talk about that today.

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

I’ll keep this part brief as I give you the updates on our animals, gardens and the creamery.

Cows

The cows are still undergoing various artificial insemination routines. The first attempt we inseminated eight of our cows. Cookie had just given birth a few weeks ahead of this so she was not in this first rotation. Princess is the only one that took. We did eight again. No Princess but adding in Cookie this time.

We checked the semen and it was viable. However, the bull with the semen sexed to produce heifers was much less active. In the end, we used this semen on our Normande cows and we used the unsexed semen on the jersey girls. We will pray for greater success this time and know for sure in about three weeks. I don’t expect all of them to take. That would be wonderful, but it is not statistically likely. At that point, we will need to think about the next step. We would be getting very late in the breeding cycle. We may continue on anyway because we need the milk to make the cheese.

It’s just so frustrating right now. We plan for births in March and April. If we try again, it would push the births back into May and June. Then we get into the situation like we had with Cookie this year. The cows will not be ready to start the breeding process again in the first week of June if they give birth in May. I think I’ve mentioned this before that we make choices every single day trying to create our homestead exactly as we imagine. In the end, it never happens as we imagine and we must roll with the punches and make another plan.

Dogs and Sheep

The dogs and sheep are doing well. I have them collected together so they can get used to each other. I’m still waiting on that magic moment when the dogs and the sheep bond. So far, the sheep are still afraid of the dogs. Sooner or later, they will cave and become used to these noisy beasts in their space. We closed them up into an even tighter space so they are more likely to get to know each other a little bit better.

I’ve watched the sheep watching me feed the dogs. I even saw one start to approach Mack’s bowl while he was off munching on a bone. He is very sharp and spotted the advance right away. He immediately went to his bowl and growled very ferociously at that sheep and she backed away. As I said, I don’t want them to be afraid of the dogs, but I do want them to respect the dogs and their food. I’ve considered making a separate place for feeding the dogs and that may still happen – likely will happen. But I’m going to wait a little longer. I want the sheep to know that he will only growl at them when protecting his food. Any other barking, I want them to assume he is doing his protection job.

Goats

I’m getting a plan outlined to integrate the new goat kids into the group as well. It looks like that will happen sometime in early fall. We will have three new goat babies to add to our family. I’m excited about that and a little apprehensive as well. They are young and small and I’m still learning about these dogs. Praying it all goes well. The goat kids will also have to learn to leave the dog food alone. It’s not likely that they will learn. That’s the point when feeding the dogs separately will become most important. The goat kids will change that dynamic and I will need to get that separate space going.

Creamery

The electrical wiring is getting moving along rapidly at this point. Scott has gotten the hang of it and that part will soon be complete. I’m helping out by occasionally holding up pieces of metal as we get the ceilings in place. We’ve completed the barn, milking parlor and milk storage room. The cheese make room is in progress. I’m not sure what room is next. I just show up when he asks for my help.

Garden

The garden is in full growth and production mode. That keeps me moving too. Like the fruit, vegetables need to be taken care of quickly or they spoil. Fortunately, I’ve had some customers lately that needed squash and cucumbers. What a blessing they have been in taking my excess veggies home with them. I’m about to have lots and lots of eggplant as well.

It has been a while since it rained and I am back to watering in the evenings again. Some of the cucumbers are looking a little worse for wear as is the zucchini. They may be close to completing their cycle this time around. Now that I think about it, I could start more plants inside and have summer squash and cucumbers back in the garden in time for a late harvest. That sounds like more work than I have time for but I will still consider it in the next few days.

Chickens

I’m looking for my first chicken eggs any day now. Scott has completed the nest boxes and the hens have been trying them out. I think they like their new boxes.

We have six white and one black rooster that need to be processed. That will be enough for quite a few months for us. We don’t eat a lot of chicken but I am looking forward to these American Bresse chickens. They are supposed to be prize winning meat birds. I’ll let you know how that goes.

That’s it for the homestead updates. Let’s move on to the main topic. Multitasking. How do I get so much done in a day? 

Multitasking – Concentration is Key

I have several things in motion today. A gallon and a half of yogurt and a pot of bone broth are both long term tasks that I don’t have to monitor. Well at least I don’t have to monitor them after I get them set up. The yogurt has an in-between step where I need to cool the milk and add the cultures. Then it just sits in the Instant Pot for eight hours.

I have the juicer/steamer going. That is full of blackberries. I’ll extract the juice and then make seedless blackberry jelly. It’s a crowd favorite. I also need to process about a gallon and a half of strawberries and get them into the jam pot. That should keep me pretty busy throughout the day.

Waiting on the sidelines are the cherries and blueberries still in the freezer. Grab them as they ripen and put them in the freezer. Putting them in the freezer is a great method of getting done what would otherwise be an overwhelming task. Fruit can go bad quickly so it needs to be dealt with quickly. I can go back later and make the frozen fruits into jams and jellies. I love it. Low stress is great.

So, what is the secret to being able to juggle multiple tasks efficiently?

What does it take to multitask effectively?

A strong mind with skills in concentration, memory and imagination. Everyone has these capabilities. As far as I know, none of these mental skills is related to intelligence. To develop these skills require specific exercises, just like you would exercise a muscle. The more you exercise a muscle, the stronger it becomes. Perhaps there is a limit to how strong your mental muscles can become, but I am not aware of one.

On a side note, I am aware of the physical limitations of memory. Alzheimer’s is a real thing. Dementia is a real thing. The physical changes in the brain are real and strength in memory requires a healthy brain.

Past, Present and Future

Concentration, memory and imagination. These are three mental capabilities and they relate to the past (memory), the present (concentration) and the future (imagination). There are exercises for each of these mental muscles. When they are all strengthened and working together, juggling multiple tasks becomes easier. Staying focused becomes easier. Regaining focus after distractions is easier.

Developing the Skill of Concentration

Today, I’ll start with concentration. This is probably the most important area for me. Indeed, this skill is required as a foundation to develop memory and imagination. We will get to those two in later podcasts.

Practicing concentration is where I always start when I feel out of sorts. Focusing my attention into the present moment relieves a great deal of stress and calms my anxiety. The key is to practice concentration and focus of attention outside of any stressful situation. In other words, you need to train the muscle so when you need it, you simply call on it and it is there.

Trying to learn how to concentrate in the midst of chaos is futile. Set aside a specific time to practice. Make this a time when you will have no interruptions. Turn off your phone and any other electronic devices that may distract you from your practice session. You want to set aside this time to develop muscle memory related to concentration.

First Develop Muscle Memory

If any of you have had dance, music, art, or singing lessons you know what I am talking about here. Let’s say you are dancing the ballet. You did not just wake up one day and perform. It takes hours and hours, weeks and weeks, months and months and years and years to perfect your dance steps. You practice them in small pieces, repeatedly moving your feet, arms – your whole body in particular ways. You are repeating particular motions over and over again. And when the time comes to put it all together into a dance, you are simply repeating those motions in various combinations. Your body knows exactly how to position itself when your mind calls upon it to perform a long-practiced motion.

Another Example of Muscle Memory

The same with playing the piano. Hours and hours go into playing the scales. And not just playing the scales, but playing the scales with your fingers in particular positions and repeating the names of the notes in your mind. Those notes become drilled into your brain’s memory. Eventually, when someone puts a piece of music in front of you, commanding your fingers to play the notes you see before you will come easily. Each note is engraved in its own memory hole along with the hand and finger motions to make it happen. The training embeds into your memory muscle memory what it takes to play a G# or middle C without having to think a whole lot about it. Without that foundation, you are left to pick out a tune and play the same tune over and over until you get it. Sure, it can be done. You can learn the song, but you will always lack the flexibility that someone with the muscle memory has ingrained in their brain.

Concentration is Also a Learned Skill

With concentration, the same is true. Instead of a physical muscle memory, I built a mental muscle memory. Because I have practiced the skill of concentration, usually it takes little to no effort to call on it anytime I feel scattered or unfocused. I can play my mind and make it dance according to my desire.

Your Physical State Affects Your Ability to Concentrate

I say it “usually” requires little effort because I am also aware of how my physical state of being can affect my ability to concentrate no matter how much I know what to do, I may have something else going on that overrides my skill. Perhaps I didn’t get enough sleep, or I ate lots of sugar or I’m in pain and all of my attention is naturally drawn to it. I can practice and develop the skill but I also recognize that human beings are complex and even with the best of intentions and the best will in the world, God and life can step in at any time and rearrange my carefully constructed plans. In any case, even if my life is scattered to the wind, I can regain some control in any situation. My ability to concentrate may not be perfect in times of stress, pain and poor nutrition, but it definitely is much better than no skill at all with concentration.

Here is an exercise that I used to develop my concentration skills.

You will need several items. 1) a candle, 2) piece of paper and a pencil, 3) table and chair, 4) timer. The candle will be burning for 10 minutes at a time. Keep that in mind as you choose the size of your candle. A kitchen timer is fine or even a timer on your phone.

Concentration Exercise Steps:

  • Sit comfortably in a chair at a table
  • Place the candle directly in front of you
  • Place the paper to the right or left, depending on your right or left handedness. Place it where your arm is comfortably able to hold the point of the pencil on the paper
  • Light the candle
  • Set the timer for 10 minutes
  • Focus your attention on the candle flame and start the timer
  • Hold your attention on that candle flame.
  • Each time you notice that your attention has wandered from the flame, make a mark on the paper and bring your attention back to the flame

That’s it. Practice this exercise every day. Set aside 10 minutes a day to train your brain.

There is no need to keep the paper. The paper and pencil marks serve as a physical stimulus to refocus your attention. That’s all. It’s not about how many marks you make. That is irrelevant. The pencil marks are a way to grab hold of your attention and then move your attention back to the flame. You may want to keep the paper with marks as a record of your consistency with the exercise. Your goal is to do this exercise every single day.

If you run into trouble, let me know. I will be offering guidance on the Locals platform. Again, that is Peaceful Heart Farm dot Locals dot Com. Support my work over there and I will be there by your side to support you in your work. Further instruction in memory and imagination will also be available there. I’d love to help you reach your goals and improve your concentration, memory and imagination.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for today’s podcast. We are moving along at lightening speed here on the homestead. I’m practicing concentration and mental focus every single day. It makes my life so much easier. I hope this exercise helps you as well. Oh, I need to mention that you will want to give it time. You’ve spent a great deal of time letting your mind move you. It will take some time for you to get ahold of those reigns and begin to direct your thoughts more purposefully – for you to move your mind. There will be some good days and some days when you won’t be able to concentrate to save your life. But gradually, you will develop greater and greater skill. You will see the results in your daily life. All it takes is a little practice. Okay, okay, a lot of practice. But it’s just 10 minutes a day. You can do it!

If you enjoyed this podcast, please hop over to Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or whatever podcasting service you use, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review. It really does help. If you like this type of content and want to help us out, the absolute best way you can do that is to share it on all of your social media platforms. 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 come on over to our Locals community. Subscribe at peacefulheartfarm.locals.com. We’d love to have your support and input in the community. And we’d love to help you out by answering your questions. See you there!

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

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Homestead Musing – A Day in the Life

Today I’m doing a little bit of Homestead musing. More “a day in the life” sort of podcast. I’ll make is a short one and I hope you like it. I love sharing my life with all of you.

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

We got a late start this morning. I was Chatty Patty before morning prayers so we started an hour late, that’s 7:15 instead of 6:15. It’s now just about 10 am. I have fed and watered the chickens, emptied the dishwasher, sorted and started the laundry and am on my second load, cut down an entire 3’ x 8’ bed of swiss chard and disposed of it (more on that later), cooked about 3 pounds of swiss chard (some we will eat and some will be frozen), froze 2 gallons of blackberries and 3 gallons of blueberries and set up 1½ gallons of milk to make yogurt. I also need to set up for waxing last week’s cheese. Scott is currently pouring the milk into the cheese vat so I can make Pinnacle. That is our aged alpine-style cheese – sort of like gruyere. Yes, today is a cheese make day so I’ll have to get back to you later for the rest of the podcast. Love ya. Bye for now.

Ok, I’m back. Just a short update. I’ve got the culture in the cheese milk and I have a few minutes before the next step. I have to bring the temperature of the milk up to 90 degrees for the cheese that I am making today. The way that I do that is to put hot water in the metal jacket cheese vat. It is sort of like a double boiler except that it is completely closed. Well, not quite completely closed. There are a couple of openings at the top that let the displaced air out as the water fills the jacket.

Focus is Really Important

I have to be quite focused when I am doing this part because I tend to check on the milk and then go do something else and then check the milk again. If I am also filling the water in the jacket, a disaster can sometimes happen. It has already happened once this cheesemaking season. If I forget that the water is running, it will completely fill the jacket and then overflow through the opening at the top onto the floor. What a mess that makes. I think once I forgot and it was overflowing for like five minutes. There was water everywhere. If I was in the actual cheese make room we are building, this would not be a big deal. It would simply go down the drain in the floor. But at the moment we have a temporary set up in our storage room. There is a drain in the floor, but the floor is tile and not meant for lots of water to be on it. Anyway, no such disaster happened today.

More homestead musings. I’m going to get in a few animal updates before I need to go tend to the cheese again.

Cows

We are in the midst of the AI process with our cows and it is not going well. You know, one thing and another. I say this often. Life on the homestead is never dull. There is always something going on that you did not plan. We plan for pregnancies but God has the final say. We had one – possibly two – heifers that appear to have taken on the first try. That’s one or two out of eight. We have to start over with the other six. Add to that an inconvenient medical condition and we are way behind on getting these cows bred.

We are praying for the health of our vet. She got the Covid and is still under the weather. Once she is back on her feet, we will preg check the two girls we think took and give the other six another chance. Actually, there are seven because Cookie is now far enough past her delivery to begin the AI process as well. If we don’t have success this time, I’m not sure what we will do. It is extremely expensive to do AI over and over and over. So expensive that we are reconsidering keeping a bull.

Keeping a bull is also a huge expense because the bull is eating and eating and eating while only being useful for a couple of months out of a year. It’s a dilemma. However, at this point, the AI is going to cost more than feeding that bull through the winter with hay. Will it be that way every year? Who knows? We do the best we can and make new choices. Ideally, Scott would be able to do our AI but that is a long and involved learning curve. I’ll keep you posted on that topic.

Quail and Chickens

We are out of the quail business. The last of the quail were processed last week. I have quite a supply of eggs saved up. Hopefully, the new pullets will start laying about the same time I run out of quail eggs for Scott. The chickens are doing fantastic. I couldn’t be more happy there. We have at least six American White Bresse hens and eight roosters to choose from to fill out the breeding flock. There are a total of nine Black Copper Marans. The distribution there is nearly perfect. There are six hens and three roosters. I’ll be keeping two each of the roosters and the rest will get processed for eating.

Garden

A few thoughts on the garden. I mentioned that I took out an entire bed of Swiss chard. We had a dry spell throughout June. So much so that we bought extra hay to get the cows through this winter. Well, now it is raining every day. The weather is always weird. Anyway, the Swiss chard got a fungus, some kind of unpronounceable leaf spot. The red variety got it, but the giant white looks fine at the moment. I cut down every plant in the bed of red. We shall see if it grows back and if I eradicated the fungus.

Everything else looks really, really good. This is the fifth year of using this particular raised bed system. The first year we started with cut up trees, fill dirt from around the homestead and a top layer of purchased organic composted soil. The next four years, Scott added our own composted soil to the beds. This year it has really paid off. The eggplants are huge. As are the squash. The peppers took a little bit of time to catch on but there are going great guns right now.

Homestead Musing About Plants: Do I Have Too Much Plant and Not Enough Produce?

Because I planted everything so late, I’m not sure whether I am growing too much plant and no fruit, or if I just need to wait for the blooms. This morning the squash was covered in blooms and bees. I’m still not sure about that eggplant. It may be all plant and no fruit. My cilantro survived the dry heat of June. So far, so good there. The tomatoes are going to need more support in the next couple of days. I have small tomatoes and lots of healthy plants.

The lima beans are blooming. There are three beds of winter squash. The butternut I grew from plant starts so they are already producing squash, too small to pick, but there are lots of them. The other two beds are a variety of other winter squash that I started from seed. They plants look great. They are fending off the squash bugs and I look for a great crop there. The summer squash looks like all plant and they are huge, but as I said, they are now covered with blooms as are the cucumbers.

It’s little weird that it is July and I am just now getting the first squash and cucumbers. I really didn’t get my garden planted until June. Normally, it was would have been a month earlier, but I was holding on to my plants to sell at the farmer’s market. And Independence and Galax are both in a different USDA planting zone. The elevation there is about 2,500 to 3,000 and we are between 1,200 and 1,400 here. There is a big difference in temperature.

Making Cheese

Well, I’m off to tend cheese again.

And now I’m back. That’s the last time I will tell you when I leave and return. When making cheese, there are often timespans of 5, 10 or 15 minutes – or even 30 minutes to an hour where I need to leave the process to continue what it is doing and return later to go to the next step.

The cheese make process is going exceptionally well. I probably shouldn’t say that as superstition would indicate that I just jinxed myself. Oh well, I don’t believe in superstition, so there you go. I expect it will continue to go well.

Creamery

We are getting closer and closer to completing this project. Scott is sometimes down that he is not getting more done. There is always another something that needs to be done instead of working on the creamery. My advice to him and to you is to keep your attention focused on what is in front of you. Do what needs to be done right now and the rest of it will take care of itself. No sense ruminating over what didn’t happen. Let’s be grateful for what did happen. Let’s be grateful for what we have gotten done. Let’s be grateful for the people that touched our lives this week.

We thought it would be complete in late summer summer/early fall. Then spring happened. Even though the cows would need to be dried up and we wouldn’t have milk to make cheese, we thought it would be complete by year end. Then summer happened. At the moment, I’m feeling pretty confident that it will be done by the time the cows give birth in the spring. We can have a USDA inspected cheese facility just about the time we have milk to make the cheese. That sounds like a plan. . . right? We shall see.

Cheese Update!

It did go well. The cheese is in the press for the final time. I’ll check it in the morning and move it to the brine tank for salting. And at least five months until it is mature. Seven months is better. And a year is the best.  

Final Thoughts

That’s really about all I have to say for today. I just wanted to check in with you all and let you know the status of our homestead and give you yet another window into the lifestyle. As always, we love it and wouldn’t have it any other way. There are always more tasks to be accomplished than there are hours in a day. It gives us purpose and motivation. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming but at those times, I just let some of those tasks slip a notch or two down the list. There are a few things that have to be done on a specific time schedule. But many more do not. I choose what I do on any given day. I choose how much I will do on any given day. Most of the time I choose to do an unbelievable amount in one day. Or at least it seems so to me. Actually, I only think that in contrast to the other days when I laze around and get very little accomplished. Well, there are fewer of those days. I get bored pretty easily and get right back to it.

How about you? Do you get bored easily? Are you dreaming of the day when you get to call your own shots? Are you working toward that goal? If you are, here is a little encouragement. It may seem like you will never get there. Don’t lose heart. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

That’s What We Did

At first, we planned five or 10 years into the future. Many times, it seemed like we would never get there. But here we are. We worked seven years longer than our original plan. We blew through our savings that was supposed to last until the creamery was built. It is still not done and we came up with other ways to make ends meet. We started our dream in 2003. That was 19 years ago and we are still going, trying to get this creamery built. In between then and now, we have changed our plans more times than I want to count. It was in 2012, ten years ago, that we decided to be artisan cheesemakers. It has taken a lot more steps, time, money, effort and so on than we ever imagined. But we never stopped imagining.

Scott is currently getting the electrical work done on the creamery. I help him with the ceilings from time to time as he moves from one room to the next. Electrical, plumbing, floors – we are nearly there.

We Appreciate Your Support

If you enjoyed this podcast, please hop over to Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or whatever podcasting service you use, SUBSCRIBE and give me a 5-star rating and review. It really does help. If you like this type of content and want to help us out, the absolute best way you can do that is to share it on all of your social media platforms. 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 come on over to our Locals community. Subscribe at peacefulheartfarm.locals.com. We’d love to have your support and input in the community.

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

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Raising Animal Protein

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

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

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

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

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

Chickens/Quail

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

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

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

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

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

Dogs

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

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

Fear of Thunder

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

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

Another Coyote Attack

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Train Mack

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

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

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

A Brief Hope Still Burns

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

Sheep/Lambs

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

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

Goats

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

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

More on the goats as that time gets closer.

Cows/Calves

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

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

AI for Spring 2023 Calves

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

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

Garden

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

Tomatoes, Lima Beans, Eggplant and Chard

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

Summer Squash and Cucumber

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

Onions and Herbs

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

Winter Squash/Pumpkin

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

Creamery

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

Raising Animal Protein

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

Large or Small to Start

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

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

Choosing Chickens

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

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

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

Rabbits and Quail

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

Goats and Sheep

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

Pigs

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

Bovine Animals

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

How Much Do You Need?

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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. It really helps with the algorithms. If you like this type of content and want to help out the show, the absolute best way you can do that is to share it on all of your social media platforms. 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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Planting the Garden

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

There are quite a few farm updates to talk about. Before I get to it, as always, I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I never want to take you for granted. Thank you so much for being here. Let’s get started on some homestead updates.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

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

Cows and Calves

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

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

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

Sheep and Lambs

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

Stellar Ewe

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

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

Goats

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

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

Quail and Chickens

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

American White Bresse

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

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

Black Copper Maran

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

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

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

Orchard

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

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

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

Garden

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

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

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

Creamery

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

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

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

Planting the Garden

What will we have and why?

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

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

Cole Crops

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

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

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

Squash and Onions

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

Plants for Farmer’s Market

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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Producing Your Own Food: Planning

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

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

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

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

Cows

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

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

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

Sheep

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

Dogs

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

Quail

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

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

Quail Clinic

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

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

Chickens

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

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

Dual-Breed Chickens

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

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

Egg Layers

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

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

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

Producing Your Own Food

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

Planning

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

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

Tips

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

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

How Much to Grow

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

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

Tomatoes

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

Peppers

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

Lettuce

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

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

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

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

Beans

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

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

Squash

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

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

More Tips

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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