Livestock Guardian Dogs; Let’s Add to Our Homestead

Livestock guardian dogs is a natural follow-on to the previous podcast about coyotes. At that time, we weren’t really willing to make that step. However, after speaking with other sheep herders, we’ve decided it is time. This is a really big step for me. I truly still feel quite uncomfortable about my ability to properly care for a dog. I don’t really know what my block is in this regard, but I’m jumping in there and I’m going to move past it. I believe some of that revolves around the years that we could not have animals that require daily attention as we were only here on the weekends. It’s an old mindset that no longer applies. I’ve learned to care for lots of different animals. I can do livestock guardian dogs.

I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. If you want to help us out with our mission to provide local, nutrient dense food and heal the earth, please share this podcast on your social media with those interested in following the sustainable homestead life. That’s the best way to help us grow. Now on to our stories.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Let’s start with some updates on the homestead. If you listened to the last podcast all about coyotes, you know that we have been having some predator issues and we lost a significant number of our sheep. We believe we have that under control for the moment. After lots of discussions and soul searching, we have decided to get a dog. After I give you the normal updates on all of our wonderful homestead livestock buddies, I’ll go into that topic in detail. But first, let’s get you caught up on what’s going on around here.


As noted in the last podcast we lost over half of our sheep and lamb population. In fact, we lost all six of the lambs born this year. I let Scott talk me into having a fall crop of lambs. So, Lambert is back in with the girls. We shall see how that goes. We’ve never had lambs in the fall, though it is quite common.

All of the sheep are now in the back pasture again. The cameras we put out night after night indicate that there are no longer any predators coming into the area. We will be getting a dog anyway. They will eventually return and we want to be prepared.


I’ve completed the registration process on all of our girls. We have three registered Jersey girls and five registered Normande girls. The breeding season is upon us. In mid-June we will start the artificial insemination process once again.

There are still a few details that we haven’t worked out in that realm. Depending on the conversation we will have with the vet will determine whether we try using embryos. The implantation of an embryo enables you to pick all of the genetics of the calf. The mom simply carries the fertilized egg in embryonic form. I don’t know much about this yet. More to come on that.


The twin calves are back in the calf pasture and we’ve added Virginia to the mix. I don’t know if I talked about that last time. Virginia was sneaking in and stealing Cloud’s milk. Cloud is already supporting two calves. A third, especially a yearling, would be way more than she could support. She has a significant percentage of black angus genes and does not produce as prolifically as the other dairy cows. Butter could support three or four calves. She produces well over six gallons of milk per day.

We are still eagerly anticipating the birth of our last calf via Violet. June 10th is just around the corner. I can’t wait. The late birth may eliminate her from being in the breeding rotation for next year. After birth, it is a minimum of six weeks before she can be bred again. And that would put her insemination at the end of July and the subsequent birth date would be late April. I think we may give AI one try, perhaps two. A second attempt would have her delivering in mid-May. That is pushing it. But it just might work to get her back in sync with the other cows. Ideally, they all need to give birth from mid-March to mid-April.

This is all so much more complicated than I ever imaged. The cheesemaking process demands that you have lots of milk. And to have lots of milk, the cows need to give birth at the same time. Without that piece, you can have many weeks of small amounts of milk in the spring. If they all give birth within three weeks, that’s ideal.

The Garden

The weather has delayed us in planting the garden. I’m finally ready to get the beans in the ground. It was only a few days ago that the temperatures were back down into the 30’s at night. The soil needs to be consistently warm for summer plants to grow. I think we are finally there. Look for more news on that in the future.

The strawberries are doing well. I went out there an checked on them this morning. There is one strawberry starting to turn red. And there are thousands of others that are white. It’s so exciting to see so many berries out there. Do you love strawberry jam? We sure do.

The blueberries are finished blooming and the blackberries have just started. All over the place are lots and lots of white blossoms. The wild blackberries and wild rose are in full bloom. If you live in the area, I’m sure you’ve noticed the clouds of white flowers everywhere. If you are brave and want to pick wild blackberries later in the summer, take note of where those flowers are blooming. Growing up in NW Georgia, we would suit up every 4th of July holiday weekend and go blackberry picking. You had to have long sleeves and no shorts because of the thorns. And in Georgia, it was best to have some way to keep the chiggers off of you. Chiggers are also known as red bugs. And they are a pain. Are you familiar with them? Unless you live in the south, probably not.

Chiggers or Red Bugs

They are arachnids. The red-colored larvae are so small – only 1/120 to 1/150 of an inch – that you cannot see them with the naked eye. They hang out in tall grass, weed patches, and underneath trees. Any brushy or thicket – such as blackberry bushes can house them. I grew up with the popular belief that they burrow into your skin. Not true. They attach to your skin. They like tight places like in your armpits, around your waistband, etc. If they are not removed, chiggers will remain on your skin for about four days.

How do you keep them off? We took several steps when getting ready to go blackberry picking. As I said, long sleeves and pants. We also treated our clothing with insect repellent. We did use those that have DEET – and they are safe enough if you only put it on your clothes and not on your skin. And today there are DEET-free alternatives. Wear boots and tuck the pant legs into them. Then pull your socks up over the pants leg. Double protection there. But it is needed in that area as walking through the brush and bushes is a significant hazard to picking up these little guys. Once you return home, get in the shower immediately and use lots of soap while they are still wandering around. Launder the clothes in hot water.

That’s a little side note not at all related to livestock guardian dogs. Let’s get on to that topic.

Livestock Guardian Dogs

There are many breeds of livestock guardian dogs and they have been used by shepherds and farmers for centuries. They are bred and trained to instinctively protect their herd from predators. The breeds can be crossbred with other livestock guardian dogs, but crossbreeding with any other breed ruins the innate ability to be a great livestock guardian dog. I can’t stress this enough. This topic comes up over and over again when I am looking on Facebook. People ask about this all the time. And the answer is always the same. Your German shepherd is not a good LGD. Great Dane and Dobermans do not make good livestock guardian dogs, and on and on. You can’t breed a livestock herding dog with a livestock guardian dog and get a good outcome. You ruin both sides of that equation. Herding dogs have wonderful instincts but they are completely different than the instincts of a guardian dog.


We are looking at several different breeds. The Great Pyrenees is probably the most well-known livestock guardian dog. They are quite popular in the US. Other breeds we are considering are the Akbash and Maremma. The Great Pyrenees originates from the Pyrenees mountains of Spain and France. The Akbash is originally from Turkey. And the Maremma is native to Italy. There are more than a dozen different breeds from various parts of the world. The thing they have in common is their breeding for livestock guardian instincts. Some are better in one or another area. It depends on what you are looking for in your particular situation.

What Makes a Good Livestock Guardian Dog?

They need to be large and strong. Typically, they are very comfortable living outdoors, though they should still have a dog house or some other kind of shelter. Developing a strong bond with livestock is essential. We are looking for a peaceful demeanor unless a predator comes around. They we want them to move into action quickly. These dogs like to mark their territory. Most of them are very vocal and can bark a lot. You want that.

One of the vendors near me at the market says that she can tell when new lambs have been born by the sound of the bark. The dog will be right there with the lambs, waiting for her to come and see to the new lambs. These dogs love to work, and truly need a job to stay occupied. I know a lot of people want to have them as pets, but they can really be a handful if kept couped up in an apartment. Even a nice sized house and yard can be problematic. They need acres and acres to roam and patrol in order to be happy. They need animals to protect to be truly happy.

Other Breeds

Some other breeds you may have heard of include: Anatolian shepherd, a Turkish breed; the shaggy Komondor from Hungary is sometimes referred to as the mop dog. You’ll know one when you see it; there is the Tibetan mastiff, an ancient breed used by the nomadic tribes of Nepal and Mongolia; The Karakachan is known for acute senses and a strong bond with the flock. There are just so many. How to choose?

These guys actually become part of the herd. They are always with the livestock, integrating into the workings of the homestead. Some routinely check the perimeters of the property, others like to keep watch from a high vantage point. They are not going to run off after bunnies and other small animals. They will stick close to the flock. Even after chasing off a predator, they will quickly return to their animal charges.  

What Do We Need in a LGD?

There are quite a few things that we have thought about so far and likely more to come. We are looking for an adult dog that already has some experience with livestock. After getting one adult acclimated to the homestead, we will likely add another that is in the puppy stage. We want to understand all the ins and outs of training as well. So, the first one needs to already know what it’s doing because we sure don’t. After the flock is protected, we can move into learning how to train one from start to finish. These dogs mostly live 12 to 15 years or so. We will likely need quite a few over our lifetime.

They are big dogs and that is a little intimidating for me. Even while still in the puppy stages, under two years old, they will be very large dogs. These are intelligent and headstrong breeds. We have the land and livestock to keep them busy – and they need that to keep them out of mischief. If they get bored, unwanted things can happen. In a household, chewing up things is not uncommon. Again, I don’t think we will have too much difficulty with that, but you just never know how rambunctious your animal might be.

Puppies vs Adults

Puppies simply cannot be left on their own. They need time to mature. The teen stage can be particularly horrible for most. They are just so big but they are still puppies at heart. A dog under two years of age can easily severely hurt of even kill the very livestock they are meant to protect. Again, we are going for an adult dog in the beginning. It is much easier for a puppy to learn if it has an adult mentor.

They absolutely need proper socialization training. Without it, they can potentially be very dangerous. Their sheer size and strength mean that they can cause serious injuries to people or other animals. They can inadvertently injure small people or children during what is considered quite routine play for them. Many breeds, even as adults, have difficulty with protecting birds – chickens, ducks, turkeys and so on – as they like to chase them as many have inbred instincts to kill them. We will be looking for which breeds can be trained well in this area as we intend to have chickens soon.

Caring for a LGD

The next thing I want to talk about is caring for them. This is my greatest area of insecurity. Almost all of these dogs are long-haired and need to be groomed at the very least every month. What do you think it will be like bathing a dog this big? Better get one that enjoys it. It would be impossible to handle a one-hundred-pound dog that didn’t like having a bath.

I’ve look at some of the breeds that don’t have as thick of a coat. But they need the thick, long coats to help protect them from predators and the elements. Some even have mane-like fur to protect their neck and shoulder region from the teeth of predators. It requires more effort from us, but in the end is worth the investment.

There are a few things out there in the interwebs that I have found to be myths. I think the worst one is that you can’t be friends with your dog. Making friends with a livestock guardian dog does not mean he won’t do his job. These are not house dogs and they have no such desire. They do however, love treats as much as any other dog.

I mentioned earlier about cross-breeding with herding dogs. Even worse is the idea that a herding dog can be a good livestock guardian god. Nothing could be further from the truth. Herding dogs have a completely different function. They are small and can easily be overwhelmed by large predators. Their job is to chase animals, although in a controlled way. Inevitably, they will tend to kill animals when bred with LGDs. Not a good thing.

How They Think

These dogs will bark at people that visit but will not bite. Their instincts are to attack only if there is a threat. Again, the difference between an LGD and say a Doberman. That Doberman may attack without provocations. Not so with the LGD.

If a stray dog comes around, they put on a great show but will not harm the dog unless an actual threat is perceived. If there is no threat, they leave the dog alone, perhaps escorting them off the property. The same with humans.

Most livestock guardian dogs learn to enjoy killing wild predators and may even hunt them. They know the difference between a domestic dog and a wild animal.

Final Thoughts

I’m so glad that we have peace on the homestead again. For the time being, all is well with the animals. The garden is moving along slowly but steadily. That means more time outside in the sunshine. It’s good for the soul. Yeah, get that vitamin D.

The perfect livestock guardian dog will be found and our animals will be protected. We will progress through yet another learning curve in caring for animals on the homestead. It’s all a cycle. One after another, after another. It’s a beautiful thing. And yes, I’m still intimidated. But I will get over it. I’m going to love having a dog. And it will be the best dog on the planet receiving the best care available from our loving hearts.

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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Coyotes on the Homestead

Coyotes are a plague when you have sheep. Today’s podcast is going to be all about coyotes. Probably more than you ever wanted to know. Some things about coyotes might surprise 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

So why is the topic today about coyotes? Well, we have had issues and I need to talk about it. I’ll try to keep it mostly factual and as upbeat as possible. In the end though, sometimes homestead life has tragic consequences.  

Sheep and Lambs

Over a span of about 3 or 4 days we lost more than half of our sheep. All six of our lambs, including my bottle baby, Susie Q are gone. Five adult ewes are also gone. We have 10 sheep left out of 21. Yeah, it’s a big loss. I’m still heartbroken about losing Susie Q. I still look for her. When I look out the window, momentarily I’m looking for her. Especially in the evening, when I go to create bottles for the twin calves, I briefly look for the very small bottle we use for lambs. Then I remember. She’s gone.

I was unusually attached to Susie Q. We’ve had bottle lambs lots of time. But I’ve never been so attached. Well, perhaps it’s that we have never lost one. And after they are grown and no longer need me for daily feedings, I naturally let go of them. Like Lambert. He’s still out there with the boys and he was a bottle baby. I just don’t think I would miss him the way that I miss Susie Q. And we’ve had others that ended up at freezer camp. I don’t know what’s different except that she was still so young dependent on us.

Cows and Calves

We moved all of the animals out of the back fields where the attacks were occurring. Scott brought out a couple of guys that hunted the male leader and we also used poison. That’s a really harsh method, but sometimes it is necessary.

The twin calves were also quite vulnerable to coyote attack. Scott moved them to a sheltered area. Virginia is also with them. We had to pull her out of the general herd because she was nursing on Cloud. If you remember, Cloud is already feeding two calves. Adding Virginia was definitely more than Cloud could support. You can likely guess that the ones who would suffer would be Princess and Winston. Virginia is about a year old and would definitely wipe out all the available milk and the younger two would be left hungry. So, Virginia is safely away from the other cows and hanging out with the twins.

Keeping the various calves out of one or another milk supply has really been a challenge this year. I don’t know if I mentioned that we briefly had all the calves and cows together. It’s much easier to maintain the pastures if there are only two groups of animals. The boys and the girls. However, having all the cow girls together immediately failed. Rosie came in for milking down a couple of quarts of milk. We suspected Princess as Rosie is her mom, after all. Now I’m wondering if it was actually Virginia and after she got a taste of milk she started looking around and found Cloud after Rosie was gone. Who knows? Rosie and Butter are in a field by themselves. The twin calves and Virginia are in the loafing space. And the rest of the crew which includes Violet, Claire, Buttercup, Cloud and her two calves, are out front. The boys, of course, are in yet another place. We have cows all over the place.  

Everyone is relatively safe at the moment. Let’s talk about coyotes. I didn’t want to know all of this and I’ve left out the most gruesome of details. But the gist of the story is here.


The coyote is a species of canine native to North America. It is smaller than its close relative, the wolf. It fills much of the same ecological niche as the golden jackal does in Europe and Asia. Though the coyote is larger and more predatory. Other historical names for this species include the prairie wolf and the brush wolf.

The coyote is listed as least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, due to its wide distribution and abundance throughout North America. Coyote populations are also abundant southwards through Mexico and into Central America. Even now, it is enlarging its range by moving into urban areas in the eastern U.S. and Canada. The coyote was sighted in eastern Panama (across the Panama Canal from their home range) for the first time in 2013.

Coyote Subspecies

There are 19 recognized coyote subspecies. The average male weighs 18 to 44 lb and the average female 15 to 40 lb. Their fur color is predominantly light gray and red, sometimes interspersed with black and white. The colors vary somewhat with geography. Coyotes are highly flexible in their social organization. Sometimes living in a family unit and sometimes in loosely knit packs of unrelated individuals. Primarily carnivorous, its diet consists mainly of deer, rabbits, hares, rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates, though it may also eat fruits and vegetables on occasion. Its characteristic vocalization is a howl made by solitary individuals. Humans are the coyote’s greatest threat, followed by cougars and gray wolves. In spite of this, coyotes sometimes mate with gray, eastern, or red wolves, producing “coywolf” hybrids. Genetic studies show that most North American wolves contain some level of coyote DNA.

Coyote Folklore

The coyote is a prominent character in Native American folklore, usually depicted as a trickster that alternately assumes the form of an actual coyote or a man. After the European colonization of the Americas, it was seen in Anglo-American culture as a cowardly and untrustworthy animal. Unlike wolves, which have undergone an improvement of their public image, attitudes towards the coyote remain largely negative. I’m in the group with that attitude.

Hunting and Feeding

Two studies that experimentally investigated the role of olfactory, auditory, and visual cues found that visual cues are the most important ones for hunting in coyotes.

When hunting large prey, the coyote often works in pairs or small groups. Unlike the wolf, which attacks large prey from the rear, the coyote approaches from the front, lacerating its prey’s head and throat. Although coyotes can live in large groups, small prey is typically caught singly. Coyotes have been observed to kill porcupines in pairs, using their paws to flip the rodents on their backs, then attacking the soft underbelly. Only old and experienced coyotes can successfully prey on porcupines, with many predation attempts by young coyotes resulting in them being injured by their prey’s quills. Recent evidence demonstrates that at least some coyotes have become more nocturnal in hunting, presumably to avoid humans.

Coyotes may occasionally form mutualistic hunting relationships with American badgers, assisting each other in digging up rodent prey. The relationship between the two species may occasionally border on apparent “friendship”, as some coyotes have been observed laying their heads on their badger companions or licking their faces without protest. The amicable interactions between coyotes and badgers were known to pre-Columbian civilizations, as shown on a Mexican jar dated to 1250–1300 depicting the relationship between the two.


The coyote has been described as “the most vocal of all wild North American mammals”. Its loudness and range of vocalizations was the cause for its binomial name Canis latrans, meaning “barking dog”. At least 11 different vocalizations are known in adult coyotes. These sounds are divided into three categories: agonistic and alarm, greeting, and contact. The lone howl is the most iconic sound of the coyote and may serve the purpose of announcing the presence of a lone individual separated from its pack.


Prior to the near extermination of wolves and cougars, the coyote was most numerous in grasslands inhabited by bison, pronghorn, elk, and other deer, doing particularly well in short-grass areas with prairie dogs, though it was just as much at home in semiarid areas with sagebrush and jackrabbits or in deserts inhabited by cactus, kangaroo rats, and rattlesnakes.

Coyotes walk around 3–10 miles per day, often along trails such as logging roads and paths; they may use iced-over rivers as travel routes in winter. They are often more active around evening and the beginning of the night than during the day. Like many canids, coyotes are competent swimmers, reported to be able to travel at least 0.5 miles across water.


The coyote is ecologically the North American equivalent of the Eurasian golden jackal. Likewise, the coyote is highly versatile in its choice of food, but is primarily carnivorous, with 90% of its diet consisting of meat. Prey species include bison (largely as carrion), white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, rabbits, hares, rodents, birds (especially young water birds and pigeons and doves), amphibians (except toads), lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises, fish, crustaceans, and insects. More unusual prey include young black bear cubs and rattlesnakes. Coyotes kill rattlesnakes mostly for food but also to protect their pups at their dens. They will tease the snakes until they stretch out and then bite their heads and shake them. Birds taken by coyotes may range in size from thrashers, larks and sparrows to adult wild turkeys.

If working in packs or pairs, coyotes have access to larger prey than lone. In some cases, packs of coyotes have dispatched much larger prey such as adult deer, cow, elk, and sheep, although the young fawn, calves and lambs of these animals are most often taken. In some cases, coyotes can bring down prey weighing up to 220 to 440 lb or more. When it comes to adult animals such as deer, they often exploit them when vulnerable such as those that are infirm, stuck in snow or ice, otherwise winter-weakened or heavily pregnant. Less wary domestic animals are more easily exploited.

Although coyotes prefer fresh meat, they will scavenge when the opportunity presents itself. Excluding the insects, fruit, and grass eaten, the coyote requires an estimated 1.3 lb of food daily, 550 lb annually.

The coyote feeds on a variety of different produce, including blackberries, blueberries, peaches, pears, apples, prickly pears, persimmons, peanuts, watermelons, cantaloupes, and carrots. During the winter and early spring, the coyote eats large quantities of grass, such as green wheat blades.

Other interesting diet components

In coastal California, coyotes now consume a higher percentage of marine-based food than their ancestors, which is thought to be due to the extirpation of the grizzly bear from this region. In Death Valley, coyotes may consume great quantities of hawkmoth caterpillars or beetles in the spring flowering months.

Livestock and Pet Predation Statistics

As of 2007, coyotes were the most abundant livestock predators in western North America, causing the majority of sheep, goat, and cattle losses. For example, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, coyotes were responsible for 60.5% of the 224,000 sheep deaths attributed to predation in 2004. The total number of sheep deaths in 2004 comprised 2.22% of the total sheep and lamb population in the United States, which, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service USDA report, totaled 4.66 million and 7.80 million heads respectively as of July 1, 2005. Because coyote populations are typically many times greater and more widely distributed than those of wolves, coyotes cause more overall predation losses. United States government agents routinely shoot, poison, trap, and kill about 90,000 coyotes each year to protect livestock. An Idaho census taken in 2005 showed that individual coyotes were 5% as likely to attack livestock as individual wolves. In Utah, more than 11,000 coyotes were killed for bounties totaling over $500,000 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017.

Livestock Guardian Dogs

Livestock guardian dogs are commonly used to aggressively repel predators and have worked well in both fenced pasture and range operations. A 1986 survey of sheep producers in the USA found that 82% reported the use of dogs represented an economic asset.

Protect Yourself and Your Pets

Coyotes are often attracted to dog food and animals that are small enough to appear as prey. Items such as garbage, pet food, and sometimes feeding stations for birds and squirrels attract coyotes into backyards. About three to five pets attacked by coyotes are brought into the Animal Urgent Care hospital of South Orange County (California) each week, the majority of which are dogs. Cats typically do not survive coyote attacks. Smaller breeds of dogs are more likely to suffer injury and/or death.

Coyotes are one of my least favorite parts of God’s creation. I’ve probably given you far too much information on these creatures. But as I said earlier, I needed to talk about this. Thanks for listening.

Final Thoughts

Living on the homestead is not always pretty. Survival is always relative to the environment. Many times, survival is a competition between humans and other species. All animals have a right to live. God made them and there you go. They have a right to live. And we also have the right to protect our other animals. Sometimes it is a small parasite – which is also deadly at times. And sometimes it’s larger animals such as coyotes and bears. Everyone is just trying to survive. I miss my Susie Q. And when I look at our decimated flock of sheep, I am filled with sadness. However, in the end, some of our flock has survived and we will rebuild. It’s what we do. Our flock will rise again. In the fall or next spring, we will have lambs again. The life cycle continues.

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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What is a Freemartin Heifer?

What is a freemartin heifer? That’s today’s topic. It is related to one of our cows having twins. Stay tuned for those details. In other news, “is that a skunk?” That’s what I thought yesterday when I was walking out to get the cows. You never know what you are going to run into on the homestead. And the dogwood trees are in bloom what a treat. It’s different for us out here in the country. Driving along the highway, there are lots of dogwood trees in everybody’s yard. These are well-trimmed and very round trees. They are quite lovely. The dogwood trees here on the homestead are sprinkled through the woods. It looks like it is snowing in patches everywhere. I love this time of year.

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. What would I do without You? I have no idea. I’m so glad you are here. I’m so excited to share with you are the various stuff going on at the farm this week. There is a lot of it.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

This time of year, everything is kicked into high gear. It seems like one thing is happening right on top of another. And when you have the odd thing pop up – like your windshield getting a ding by a flying rock on the highway that quickly expanded to a lengthy crack requiring a windshield replacement, it makes it that much busier. To top off that cute little story, you never question how much it is going to cost for those great auto-driving gadgets if something breaks. The windshield has a camera right behind the rear-view mirror that required recalibration after the glass was replaced. That lovely service cost one and half times the cost of the windshield replacement itself.

A day later I find out that the automatic headlight features are no longer working. I have to make a second trip to town for some codes to get cleared out. That fixed the problem but it took another three hours out of my day. Do you guys have days like that? You have so much to do and you end up doing something completely unrelated to anything on your “to-do” list. I still have a pending “to-do” regarding that windshield replacement. In Virginia, every county has an annual inspection that requires a sticker to be displayed on the windshield. Yup! You guessed it. That little feature didn’t survive the procedure. I got it back in pieces with an apology and a reminder that I would need to get that inspection sticker replaced. When am I going to get that done? Geesh. It has been one of those weeks. On to the homestead happenings in and around these minor annoyances.

Gardens and Orchard

The strawberries are doing really well. I can’t wait for them to start blooming. Speaking of blooming, the blueberries are busting out all over. Keep the second week of June in mind. That’s likely when we will have blueberries available at the farmer’s markets. I’ll be making lots of blueberry jam again this year. At least I hope I will be.

If you’ve been around the podcast a while, you might remember that we have had some trouble with racoons in the past. These are really cute creatures and I’m willing to share a little of our abundance with them. However, when they start eating the entire crop of blueberries, that’s where I draw the line. We put up an electric fence two years ago. It worked beautifully. In fact, it worked so well that we didn’t even have it working last year and we still got all the berries. I guess the experience the previous year was so “shocking” that these little guys decided not to even try last year. I wonder if that caution will hold up for another year. Naw, let’s not test it. That electric fence needs to be reinstated in the coming weeks to ensure that we are successful in harvesting our wonderful blueberries.

The blackberries are growing lots of leaves but have not started blooming quite yet. It is a wonderful time of year when the blackberries bloom. A related plant, the wild rose, also blooms about the same time. Between these two plants, the fragrance in the air is heavenly. The goats have cleared out most of the wild rose and wild blackberries so we may have to rely solely on the domestic blackberries for our perfumed air this season. We shall see.

The green peas are jumping up out of the ground. Scott built a wonderful trellis for these lovelies. We have two 70-ft long beds with six rows of peas in each that are coming up. Peas love the cool weather. It’s a good thing they do. The temps are going to drop into the low 30’s tonight. But I expect the peas to be fine. There might be a very light frost, but we should be okay with that.

The early blooming fruit trees are done and will be setting fruit at this point. That is a greater concern. If it gets too cold, the cherries, peaches, and plums could lose their fruit. I was looking at the peach trees yesterday and I didn’t see any small fruit. Perhaps it will be all right. We shall see.

What was I doing out in the orchard yesterday? I was chasing a small quail.


While I was testing the automatic waterers, one of the younger girls slipped by me and jumped to the ground. I chased her and chased her and chased her. She got into the orchard and the grass is about 8 inches tall in there. I saw exactly where she landed but when I got there, she was gone. I walked outward in a spiral, expanding larger and larger, but I never saw her. I guess she’s gone for good. Sigh! I hope she has a great life out there on her own. Hopefully, she will be able to fend for herself. It’s hard to tell though. She has always had her food presented in an easily consumable form with no effort on her part. Out there on her own, she will need to scratch around a lot to find bugs and worms and such. Quail are very carnivorous and require lots and lots of protein. I wish her the best. Who knows? She may turn up in a day or so and I will be able to catch her. We had that experience a couple of years ago. Scott lost two hens that time and we eventually caught both of them and returned them to their cages. So, there is hope.

The rest of the quail are doing very, very well. Twice a year Scott gives the quail hutches a thorough cleaning. He finished that job just as the new babies went out into the grow out cages. They are doing really well. We have 36 of them at this time. Figuring out how to work the automatic waterers is always a challenge, but they mastered it in no time.

Just this morning 72 more eggs went into the incubator. The second cycle of baby quail has started.

Sheep and Lambs

We are done with the lambing season. The last ewe delivered twins a few days ago. Girls!! Yay!! They are doing very well. We ended up with three girls and three boys. Six healthy lambs. Susie Q is still getting her bottle twice a day, but she has been turned loose with the rest of the sheep and lambs. I’m thinking she doesn’t like this very much, but she is getting used to it. Because she was so attached to Scott and myself and literally never left our side, it was important for her to start spending her time with other animals. After all, she isn’t a human and she needs to make friends with the other animals.

It seems to be going well. I always feel sorry for these lambs that have no mother caring for them. But they seem to do very well in spite of their orphan status in the flock. Lambert is our flock ram. He was a bottle-baby last year. Look how far he has been elevated in status. I’ll probably keep Susie Q as a flock ewe also. The bottle babies are somewhat like pets. Not exactly, but definitely more special than the others.

Cows and Calves

Violet is the only animal we have left who has yet to deliver. She is not due until the first week of June. It’s always a relief when we make it through this delicate time for all of our female creatures. Scott briefly talked about having a second set of lambs in the fall. I am not in favor of this as it is quite stressful for me when our ladies are nearly term. I’d rather keep it to just a couple of months in the spring. My nerves need a rest for the remainder of the year.

Butter produced a very big surprise for us. If you haven’t seen and heard Scott’s video on our Facebook page, you have to get over there and find it. It was posted on Thursday, April 15th. He is filming the results of him helping Butter deliver this cute little girl when all of a sudden, he sees another set of hooves. Here’s a link to that post. It’s hilarious. Watch to the end.

The twin calves are really cute. However, there is a problem when twins are one boy and one girl. The heifer calf, the girl, is most likely what is called a “freemartin”. That’s the topic that I want to dive into with more detail.

Butter’s Surprise

I had Butter pegged for delivery in late May, not mid-April. I’m not sure how I got so far off on those calculations. I think I was planning ahead on my spreadsheet, estimating where the dates would fall with various scenarios and neglected to put the dates back to their original settings. About three or four days before she gave birth, it became obvious that my calculations were off. Her udder swelled up and she was just huge. And it was the day before she gave birth that I had the very strong thought that she might have twins. She was really huge. It really is hard to tell though. When they fill their belly up with hay and grass, it can get really big even when they are not pregnant. Add pregnancy and they all look really huge just before they give birth. I just had that very strong thought and then she did, in fact, have twins.

There is no problem when the twins are both girls or both boys. But when one is a boy and the other a girl, there are definite issues. Nothing like they will die or anything like that. No, they will be quite healthy. It’s the freemartin phenomenon to which I am referring. What? You don’t know what that means? Neither did I.

We had actually purchased a calf that was a likely freemartin heifer when we purchased our first milk cows, Claire and Buttercup. We purchased Beta because the price was right and we wanted one additional cow strictly for beef. So, what is a freemartin heifer anyway? Here is the low-down.

Freemartin Heifer

The term freemartin refers to an infertile female mammal with masculinized behavior and non-functioning ovaries. The animal originates as a female with the double X chromosome, but during gestation acquires the male, XY chromosome. This can only happen with a male/female twin gestation. As I said, as long as there are two girls or two boys, there is no problem. This occurs in all cattle species that have been studied, and it can also happen occasionally in other mammals including sheep, goats and pigs. We have never seen this in our sheep and they deliver mixed male/female twins all the time. So, I have to think it is quite rare in sheep. Sheep and goats deliver twins and even triplets all the time. However, natural twins in cows only happens about .5% of the time. About one in every 200 births. A large cattle herd of 200 or more cows would see twins regularly in any given calving season.

With the male/female twin calf set, they not only share the uterus but they also share the placental membranes. That’s where the problem arises. The joining of the placental membranes occurs at about the fortieth day of gestation. After that happens, the fluids of the two fetuses can easily mix. There is an exchange of blood and antigens that carry unique characteristics of bulls and heifers. In the end, both will have some characteristics of the other sex.

The male is only affected by reduced fertility. In the female, over 90% of them are completely infertile. That makes her a freemartin. One who is genetically female but has characteristics of a male. Ovaries generally do not develop correctly and are small. There can be other structural anomalies as well. In the end, freemartinism cannot be prevented. And it really is rare. Even with any set of twins, there is a 50%-50% chance of same sex calves. If I do the math correctly, that means that 1 in 200 births would produce twins and at least half of the time, those twins would be fine – twins of the same sex.

Anyway, that’s the story of our twin calves. They are cute beyond measure, but likely we have two steers. I don’t know about the Hansel. Oh, I forgot to mention we call them Hansel and Gretel. So, I don’t know if Hansel will make a decent bull or not. But we can be pretty sure that Gretel will never produce a calf. What do you think we should do with these two calves?  We currently are bottle feeding both of them. They could be sold as bottle babies. We could raise them as steers. We could try to breed Gretel when she is old enough. We could raise Hansel as a bull. He is 50% registered Normande and 50% registered Jersey. If he is fertile, he would make a fine bull for somebody.

Let us know what you think.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for this podcast. It’s a great time of the year here on the homestead. I’m so glad to be nearly finished with birthing. As I mentioned it is quite stressful for me. I just never know what to expect. We have beautiful lambs and beautiful calves. We are truly blessed. The joy of watching all of the plants and animals grow will fill our lives for the next several months.

I hope you all are having a wonderful spring season as well.

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

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

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Spring Birth on the Homestead

So much going on with spring birth on the homestead. And abandoned lamb was the immediate task to take care of today. A quick trip to town to get supplies and now I’m late getting to this podcast. That’s what it’s all about on the homestead. I have so much to share with you today and most of it is so much fun!!

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 homestead this week. As I said there is a lot of it and all relates to spring births.

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

Before getting to that abandoned lamb, let’s start with the garden and the birthing of new plants.

Spring Garden

If you are new to gardening perhaps you are not familiar with the terms spring garden, summer garden, and fall garden. Spring is the time of year to plant crops that thrive in cool weather. Some can thrive in the heat, like maybe potatoes. But most spring garden plants require cool temperatures. Things like lettuce and spinach will simply give up and go to seed if it gets too hot. Other things like root crops will just not grow in the heat. Their growth stalls and there is nothing to do for it but try again in the fall when the weather cools off again.

This spring we are planting two kinds of peas, snap peas and shelling peas. Shelling peas are those green peas that you buy frozen or canned. Snap peas are best for salads and such. They are eaten pod and all, though they can be shelled as well. But the pods are sweet and crisp.

I’m not going to plant potatoes this spring although Scott did dig up the potatoes that we had left in the ground over the winter. They were just starting to sprout and grow again. Really, we should have had them out of the ground a week or so ago before they sprouted. Fortunately, there are not tons of them. We will be able to eat them before they get soft. In the normal course of planting, I would have planted some of them for a new crop. I have enough potatoes and will forgo them this spring. Perhaps in the fall.

I have yellow, red and white onion sets to plant. Onions make bulbs according to the amount of light they need. There are short season, mid-season and long season varieties. Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and other northern states can grow those long season varieties. During the height of summer, the hours of daylight are significantly higher than we get in Southern Virginia. And farther south from us, only the short season varieties will grow. The farther south you get, the more equal the day and night hours become. While far in the northern States like Alaska, they have sunlight nearly 24 hours at the height of summer. Of course, it is dark for nearly 24 hours in the winter also.

Strange place, Alaska. I was there twice. Once near the spring equinox and the days and nights were fairly equal. But the second time I was there in July, just past the summer solstice. The sun was still up at midnight. It dipped below the horizon for about 3 hours and then daylight began to show once again. It happened in Germany also. I was there in August and it was daylight past 11:00 pm and the sun was back up long before I got up in the morning.

So that’s the story of onions. The rest of the garden will get planted in May. That will be the green beans, herbs and crowder peas.

The 500 strawberry roots are all planted and looking great. Leaves are visible on almost all of them. The beds look fantastic. Scott did a great job there. That bank of strawberries will also have four sections of culinary herbs. I already have a good stand of thyme and oregano. Inside I have started more rosemary as it didn’t do so well last year and I just let it go over the winter. It can survive the winter but needs protection. It did so poorly that I just decided to start over this year. And just today I got some garden sage seeds to fill in that fourth section in between the strawberries.

The blueberries and blackberries are leafing out. The blueberries will bloom soon and we will have berries around the first or second week of June. The blackberries will be ready in mid-July.

On to the cows.

Cows and Calves

Last time I talked with you, we had one calf. Now we have three. Rosie, our new Jersey heifer gave birth to Princess. Then Cloud gave birth to Winston. And finally, Claire gave to birth to a, yet unnamed, bull calf. No one has had any trouble so far, knock on wood. Butter and Violet have a bit of time to go before giving birth, Late May and early June respectively.

Now to the fun part of the cow story. Rosie, though she is her first calf, was giving about 2 ½ gallons of milk per day. We were estimating in the beginning because Princess was getting her share so we guessed about how much she was drinking. We were getting about a gallon and a half in the beginning and guessed Princess was getting about a gallon a day. Well, it didn’t take long and we were getting a gallon a day – and then a few days later, a half-gallon or even less. Princess was getting it all.

At this point, we would normally separate momma and baby and control the amount of milk baby is getting. Calves need about a gallon or so of milk to grow strongly. Certainly not two gallons. But they will drink everything they can if you let them. Take a beef cow for instance. Those calves are never going to get more than a gallon or so a day because that is all momma is going to make. But the dairy cows make lots and lots of milk and the calves simply don’t need that much. So what were we to do.

We came up with a very good plan. During this time when the milk volume we were getting was diminishing rapidly, Cloud had given birth. We cannot milk Cloud anymore. About mid-season last year, something spooked her and she began kicking the milking inflations off. Then she began kicking more and Scott got quite a few bruises and even a really badly sprained thumb from her kicks. We had to stop milking her. We thought we might try again this year if she perhaps had calmed down a bit. No luck there. We had her walking into the stanchion before she even gave birth, just getting her used to coming in and getting a little treat. They all get this training. It makes it easy to work with them for just about any vet treatment. Anyway, she got startled again by something and started kicking and we weren’t even trying to touch her udders. That answered that question. Cloud would not be milked this year either.

This is also a dilemma on a homestead. Every animal needs to have a purpose. Her purpose was to have a calf every year and to be milked. Now half of her purpose was eliminated. That means she has become more of a cost than a benefit. And even though we love all of our milk cows, we simply cannot afford to have any of them as pets. They must cover their own expenses at the very least. And of course, we really need them to provide some income. Otherwise, we are using our precious time to maintain a cow that is not giving much in return.

This year, she got a reprieve. We figured out how she could pull her own weight. She could become a nurse cow. Separating a calf from mom is normally a loud experience for three days. However, we separated Princess from Rosie and began grafting her onto Cloud. Princess was happy with the arrangement. Rosie was not. She still moos at Princess all the time. Princess ignores her and has since the second day.

A cow will sometimes easily take on another calf. In fact, we have had issues in the past with calves nursing on any cow in the area. Our Normande cows are pretty willing to let anyone nurse. Cloud was not quite so willing as Claire and Buttercup, but we were confident she would eventually accept Princess as her own.

We put Princess in with Cloud and Winston. And we had them separate from the rest of the crew for the exact reason I just described. We didn’t want Winston browsing around and finding milk beyond Cloud. Anyway, each day we bring all three up to the milking shed. Cloud goes in the stanchion and her head is locked in. She can still see who is back there nursing and the first day, she kicked Princess off repeatedly. Princess is quite resourceful and persistent. She was hungry after all. It didn’t take long for her to figure out how to position herself so that Cloud could not reach her with her kicking. She would get almost right up underneath Cloud with her butt close up next to Cloud’s front legs and her body nearly underneath Cloud’s belly. Cloud is locked in the stanchion and can’t walk away. The first two days, Princess was voracious in nursing. We were relieved and confident that she would be fine. She was filling her belly at least once a day. The third day or fourth day, Princess did not persistently try to nurse. In fact, she was rather disinterested in nursing at all. That told us that she was getting at least some nursing in earlier in the day.

As of yesterday, I did not see Cloud even push her away. At all. Princess was getting some milk with persistence in previous days. Now she is nursing whenever she wants. It’s a done deal. Cloud now has two calves. And we now have that full two and a half gallons of milk.

A yesterday and today’s bonus is that Rosie all of a sudden started producing even more milk. We believe it is the warmer weather. She now gives us over three gallons every day. That is fantastic for a first year Jersey cow of her size. Remember, she is still quite small in stature.

I can’t wait to see how Butter does this year. We are expecting in excess of five gallons a day from her as she is now a seasoned Jersey cow. Butter is as tall as any of the Normandes. She looked like a mini cow when we first got her, but she is definitely full grown now.

That’s it for the cow stories. Now on to the quail.

Quail Babies

Just a brief tale here. We had 68 eggs in the incubator. There were 40 of those eggs that hatched. We lost three babies in the first day or so and now have 37 quail babies in the brooder. They are about 10 days old now and have nearly all of their feathers. In about 8 days, they will be fully feathered and strong enough to go out on their own.

We will do our semi-annual deep cleaning of all of the quail cages just before we turn them out into the grow out cages. The breeder cages also get a deep cleaning during this time. We will sterilize and treat the cages for mites. They will all get fresh new sand in which to take baths and the automatic watering system will be started up again. The automatic waterers don’t work well in winter as the lines and water cups freeze over. Instead, I take fresh water out to the birds every day from late fall to late spring.

So, the cycle of birds is in motion. I’ll keep you updated on each new batch of cute quail chicks.

Sheep and Lambs

The biggest spring birth story is the lambs. It would have been nice to have a 100% success rate like we achieved last year, but alas, we knew it was not likely. Lambs are delicate animals in the beginning.

The first ewe’s lamb was born without a hitch. He is strong and healthy. The second ewe, not so much. She had a big beautiful boy and a very, very tiny girl. The girl was born an hour or so later and we suspect that she was in the birth canal too long and was oxygen deprived. She passed within a couple of hours. She was never able to get up.

We only have four ewes giving birth this year and I thought perhaps that would be the only issue. Unfortunately, that was not the case. This story has a better ending. I had to rush into town to get colostrum for an abandoned lamb. In all of our 11 years of raising sheep and lambs, this was the first abandoned lamb that we had. Well, Lambert was close to being abandoned. That was two years ago. He was small and one of three. The other two were getting all the milk and we ended up bottle feeding him.

Today’s spring birth of lambs was, again, twins. But the ewe never touched the second lamb. Right after milking this morning I went out to check on the ewe because I could tell she had given birth. I had looked out the window and I could see the one up and running around. He was already dry. But she was laying down and straining again, so I thought another was on the way. And perhaps she was having an issue as the other was already standing up quite strongly and dried off. I feared a repeat of the previous situation where the lamb was damaged in the long birthing process. Nope, not this time. When I got out there the lamb was born and was actually standing up. She was significantly smaller than her brother, but still quite strong. She was as wet as she could be and still standing strong. I could tell that mom had not licked her at all. Who knows why it happens? But it does happen. Mom just rejects one of the lambs, usually the second or third one. As I said, we have had lots of issues with lambing but this was first time we had experienced the complete abandoning of a lamb. I tried rubbing the birthing fluid that was still on the new one onto the older one. Perhaps I could fool mom into accepting both as hers. No luck. She simply ignored the other lamb.

What to do? What to do? We quickly put all three in a smaller enclosure. We tied up mom and put baby girl underneath her and showed her where to nurse. While this little girl was strong, she seemed to have no clue as to how to nurse. Finding the correct location was no issue, but latching on was not going well. We fiddled with her for about an hour before giving up and deciding that we were just not going to be able to get her to nurse. And even if we did, mom was going to push her away, or walk away and leave her behind. She had already done that. When I first arrived, she took her boy and moved away from me. I brought the girl up to the boy and laid them together. Mom approached as a I walked away. She sniffed and licked the boy and completely ignored the girl. Then she walked away again with her boy in tow, abandoning the girl.

So, what happens when a lamb is abandoned? Well, we have to get colostrum into her within 24 hours. If you ladies out there have children you know what I mean when I say colostrum. Or if you have your own homestead you will know what I’m talking about here. For those of you still considering and learning, colostrum, not milk, is created for about three days or so. In sheep it contains lots of protein and a higher amount of fat than other species. The fat is important for lambs. The other really, really important part of colostrum is it contains the antibodies for common ruminant diseases. Lambs, kids, and calves can survive without it, but their chances of getting sick and dying due to lack of the antibodies to fight the infection is very, very high. All newly birthed ruminant animals need that colostrum for survival. On top of that, the ability to absorb the antibodies declines quickly after 24 hours. Therefore, it is imperative that the newborns get that colostrum immediately.

Once we made the decision to bottle feed the new lamb, we now needed the supplies. We have never really kept lamb colostrum on hand since we reduced our flock to a half dozen ewes. We picked the best moms and we’ve never had an abandoned lamb, as I said. I was aware that this stuff can be hard to come by for lambs. All kinds of calf colostrum which will do in a pinch. But the lambs really need the extra fat. That means I had to get on the phone and find some ASAP. The closest Tractor Supply that had some was an hour away. No problem, put everything else on hold, get in the car and make the trip.

I got back with the goods, fixed up a bottle for her and she drank it down in a couple of minutes. She is a really strong lamb and I think she will do fine. The other thing I needed to find was lamb milk replacer. Again, this formula needs to be made for lambs. The fat content of ewe’s milk is very high compared to cows or even goats. Fortunately, the Tractor Supply store that had the colostrum also had the lamb milk replacer. Phew. I got it all done. I feel pretty good about this little girl’s chances of survival. It was as flurry of activity, but that’s pretty normal for homestead life in the spring.

There is one more ewe still to give birth. Praying all goes well for her.

Final Thoughts

That’s about all I have time for in this podcast. It’s time to go bring up Cloud and make sure once again that Princess is being fed properly and we need to give Cloud some calorie treats daily as she needs to supply milk for two calves. I’ll feed and water the baby quail and get another bottle of colostrum ready for the ewe lamb. She will get fed at least three times a day for a few days. Then it will drop to twice a day for at least two months.

It’s all in a days work on the homestead.

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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We’ve Learned a Lot About Homesteading

We’ve learned a lot about homesteading and living the homestead life over the past 16 years. Today I want to share some of that with you. If you are looking at moving to a rural setting, dreaming of it or simply respect those who do make that choice, there is always so much to learn. One of the benefits of the lifestyle is that everything changes on a daily basis.

Let me 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. It makes my podcasting life worth it. Thank you so much!  

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

I’m not going to say much about the animals this time, except in the context of the rest of the podcast.

I will say that we are eagerly anticipating the arrival of lots of babies on the homestead. I’ll have much more to say about that in the next episode. Cloud and Claire are “bagging up”. That means their udders are toning up and filling with milk and birth is imminent. Cloud’s due date is only three days away and it is seven days for Claire.

We could be seeing baby lambs in just two days. We shall see. They are pasture-bred and the first possible date is in two days. Of course, their actual delivery date is determined by when they actually came into heat and were bred. Was anyone bred on the first day? Who knows. The next two weeks will be fun for lambs.

The 68 quail eggs in the incubator go into “lock down” tomorrow and within two to three days we will hear the peeping of the first hatching babies. Lots and lots of new babies from all sorts of species in the upcoming week.

Garden and Orchard

I’ll briefly mention that the garden is getting cleaned up as I speak and we are nearly ready to plant peas. The 500 strawberry plants have arrived and those will be planted in the next couple of days. It’s the usual spring rush. Babies born and gardens planted.

I have lots of tomato plants growing strong that will be ready for the market in a few weeks. The California Wonder peppers had to be replanted. I also have some hot peppers that are doing well. The herbs are moving along slowly and that is normal. All will be ready for your gardens in May and June.


Work on the creamery is paused as we get the garden going. The dairy inspectors came by today and approved all we have done so far. They also provided new resources for getting the milking parlor up and running. We have a good relationship with these two people and they always provide us with great information.

I want to move on now to my topic of the day. There is much to say and I’m trying to keep this to ½ hour or less.

We’ve Learned a Lot About Homesteading and Operating a Small Business

Every step we take seems to correct some other step that we made previously. Our journey started way back in 2003 when we bought our first piece of property and moved onto that property in 2005. Well, let me back up a little bit. It really started the idea back in 1999 and 2000 when Scott and I first met. We spent hours talking about living the sustainable, homesteading lifestyle. It was a mutual passion to learn to provide as much of our sustenance as possible on our own. And that dream leads to the final point that I will cover today. More on that later.

We Read and Read and Read

There is so much to learn. It’s not like you just put a seed in the ground and it grows. That doesn’t happen. We took a step-by-step approach, learning about one thing, then another, then another. Some people just jump right in and do everything at once. We continued to work outside jobs so that just wasn’t the right move for us. Our method was to learn a lot about one aspect, give it a try, and make other choices based on what we discovered.

We learned about gardening. Raising animals was also a central study. We went from chickens to sheep to milk cows. Other animals were added along the way. Each one involves a learning curve.

First, We Thought About a CSA

While still in the talking and reading stages way back in the early 2000’s we thought about starting a CSA. After we bought our property, we even started a few raised beds just to get our feet wet. In the end, we decided vegetable gardening and CSAs were not for us. Part of that decision was based on the fact that all of our land was on rolling hills. There were no flat places to make gardens large enough to grow the amount of produce needed to sustain a business. Changing the landscape was visually undesirable as well as financially impractical. The work was excessive and not conducive to our aging bodies. We wanted exercise as part of living into our twilight years, but we didn’t want hard labor. Of course, the hard labor can be reduced with equipment. But again, we are talking financial investment. The idea of a CSA just did not make our hearts flutter with anticipation. Growing for ourselves, yes. Growing for profit for others . . . not so much. 

For those unfamiliar with the term “CSA”, it is simply an agreement between the farmer and his customers that they will invest in the farm for the year or season and the farmer will produce food for those customers. Each week they pick up the results of what has been farmed. I’m giving a very bare bones view of this process. The farmer has to calculate what they believe they will grow, communicate that to the CSA members so they know what to expect, and then there is the actual growing of the food. Many unfortunate things can happen along the way with a CSA. We participated in one for quite a while when we were commuting from VA to SC every week. We supported a local farm in Beaufort, SC until they went out of business. It was a sad thing. The farm had been in the family for a very long time. The owner and his son were making a last stand with the farm with this CSA. They produced lots of great food. And I believe they were profitable. At least they were profitable enough to stay in business . . . and then the rains came. The floods came.

Disaster Strikes and Ruins a Small Farm

This was back around 2012, 13 or 14. I can’t remember exactly. Some of you may remember when much of South Carolina and North Carolina were under water. It wasn’t a hurricane – at least not directly. No, it was simply rain, rain, rain and the rivers were flooded. The low lands were flooded. Eventually, much of these two states were flooded. Many crops were lost. Many animals were lost as rivers overflowed farms were flooded. Horses, cows, pigs – and many other animals were lost. To be fair, lots of people joined in and saved many. In the end, the losses were too much for our family farm CSA. The farm survived, but many customers were lost.

Non-farmers do not understand or change their mind when they find that a CSA means sharing the risk. You are investing in the farm just as the farmer does. In the end, whatever the farm produces is what you get for your money. And the weather or disease or some other disaster can devastate plants and animals that form the basis of a farmer’s income. Disaster happens. The farm produces nothing or nearly nothing. The farmer takes his losses and keeps going. Many times, CSA members just move on and go back to buying from the grocery store where they can be guaranteed of receiving product for their money. We understood and continued to support our farmer. But too many others did not. The farm continued for another year or so, but ultimately succumbed to the losses from the floods.

The Upside of CSAs

I don’t mean to turn anyone away from this idea. CSAs are great and we have many in our area that are doing very, very well. The resent pandemic has been a boon for many of them. There were times when food shortages were prevalent in the super markets. CSA farms got lots and lots of new customers. Suddenly, the produce from a local farm was more accessible than food from the grocery store. It does work both ways.

I’ll wager that many of you are interested in this lifestyle simply because the food supply chain seems a bit unstable. You want more control over your food supply for you and your family. The pandemic has been quite the motivator for many of you who have been sitting on the fence for quite a few years, putting off fulfilling your dream of self-sufficiency.

You will definitely want to stay tuned and pick up a few more tips and benefit from some of our learning experiences.

Reusable Canning Lids Work

The pandemic also brought shortages for those of us already in the thick of growing our own food. It came in the way of not being able to find the seeds we needed. Canning supplies were, and still are, in short supply or completely unavailable. I’ve picked up extra jars as they became available. Those jars come with lids. But the jars I already have need lids and those are still unavailable. Fortunately for me, I have a large supply of reusable lids. If you haven’t tried, these I say give them a try. I don’t use them for things that I can for the farmers market, but I use them successfully for our own food stores.

The brand I use is Tattler. I bought literally hundreds of these quite a few years back and wasn’t really using them because I had plenty of metal lids. I had used them enough to know that they worked really well. Even though there are lots of reviews out there that say they don’t seal well, I have found them to seal just fine. Sometimes you just go for it and give it a try. I treat them differently than the metal lids.

With the metal lids, you tighten them finger-tight and then don’t tighten them again. Lots of times they come out of the canner quite loose. With the Tattler lids, I tighten them finger tight before putting them in the canner. But I immediately crank the metal ring down tight when I bring them out of the canner. Using this method, I have a 99% seal rate. I will occasionally have one jar that doesn’t seal properly and we eat that veggie with a meal within a few days. But most jars seal just fine.

You will know the jar isn’t sealed by testing the lid about 24 hours after it comes out of the canner. Take off the metal ring and pull up slightly on the edge of the lid. If it comes free, refrigerate that product and use it within the week. You can also try again with that jar if you have another batch ready to go in the canner. Make sure the rim of the jar and the lid and seal are very clean, then give it another go. I don’t usually do that. I’d rather just chalk it up as the occasional failure and just eat it. 

The Homestead Garden and/or CSA

Even though a market garden is not the center of our life, gardening is still a part of our homestead. It really does take a lot of veggies to provide for your needs year-round. . . more than you think. What you grow depends on what you and your family want to eat. For instance, I gave up growing lots of lettuce. Scott has always said that he really likes vegetables – and he does. However, he is not a big salad eater. Green beans, asparagus, peas, carrots and so on. Basically, cooked vegetables are the ones he wants. Now I only grow these kinds of vegetables. If I want lettuce – and I do especially this time of year, I buy it from one of the growers at the farmer’s market.

Animals on the Farm

There are lots of things to learn about having animals on the farm. Start with your comfort level. Chickens are a great entry into raising your own animals. And prepare yourself ahead of time for the ultimate end. Those chickens or rabbits or whatever are there for you and your family to eat. Homesteading really gets you in touch with what it takes for humans to survive. There are lots of animal rights activists out there that do not want you to eat meat because an animal has to die. Unfortunately, our evolution as a species has been, and continues to be, dependent upon eating meat and fish. Civilizations evolved by living near the water. Seafood was available. Salt was available. Green things grew near the water. And animals would come to the water to drink and could be harvested for food for our tribal families.

I’ll admit that I have yet to actually kill any of the animals on our homestead. Scott has always done that for us. Or we take the animals to a USDA inspected facility for processing and someone else does all of that part for us. Having said that, I have no doubt that if I was the only one available to do the deed, I would do it. I would say a prayer to God and do it. This is a hard one for many people. Becoming vegetarian is an option I suppose. And perhaps many of you have already made that choice. It’s a valid choice. I don’t believe the entire world will ever be vegetarian. It’s just not sustainable for those living in northern climates. Homesteaders there may have to come to a peaceful place with knowing that animals die so that they can live there. Not everyone can live in the tropics and grow vegetables year-round. And the need for protein still exists. I’m not educated enough to know what it would require for a vegetarian to grow enough beans or grains to fill their needs for protein.

Not Everyone Will Agree with Your Choices

There are those in your circles who will continually ask you “why are you doing this?” Sure, we could have kept on working our very lucrative jobs and buying good quality food from local farmers. We didn’t need to do it ourselves. There are lots of other things we could be doing. Making lots of money, traveling, and so on. I think about that sometimes. But on the other hand, I’ve already done a lot of that. I’ve traveled all over the US and a few places in Europe. I loved it. But then the airline industry went down hill and traveling all the time became more of a hassle and less of an adventure. The biggest driver I think is the inner urge to provide for oneself. To feel the confidence in being able to support your family no matter the circumstances.

In the end, not everyone feels it and they never will. The bottom line is whether it is worth it to you and your family. It’s a lot of work. We all know that. And maybe you get into it and find that it really is more work than you are willing to do. Maybe that call to take several cruises and travel to Europe (or America if you are already in Europe), or travel to some other destination different than your home country – maybe that urges you on. Go with that. You can always live vicariously through and support your homesteading friends by buying their products.

Producing an Income

And that brings up another point. Products. Even the most self-sufficient homestead will need to sell some sort of product to buy things that cannot be produced on the farm. Clothes, paper, books, certain cleaning products, gasoline and so on. We chose to create a small business within our homestead. We don’t really need that much money, but one thing led to another and here we are. We love making cheese. And it has been worth it to us to take even longer to complete the homestead part of our dream while we build the creamery. It was only four years ago that we quit working for others and jumped in full time to live our dream. Up to that point, we were building a little bit at a time.

We built fencing, added animals, learned that growing our own hay was more than we wanted to do, added more animals. And finally, fell in love with our cows. We hit our sweet spot. If we had to do it all again, I think we would still do it in steps before making our final decision on the central theme of our homestead. Deciding to make cheese was huge of course. The cost of the infrastructure is why not many people do it. But that barrier to entry also keeps the competition to a minimum. There are always pros and cons to every choice.

Trust your instincts. Know that you can do far more than you ever thought you could. There are ups and downs. And there are joys and sorrows. I can’t tell you the sorrows of losing lots of animals. Or the sorrow of the farmer I mentioned above that was wiped out by mother nature. But we must try. We must give it our best shot. All of life is a risk. Homesteading is a risk but the inner joy is so worth it for us. Perhaps it will be worth it for you as well.

You Just Can’t Do It All

The last thing I want to mention is what I talked about way back in the beginning. The passion to produce as much of what sustains you as possible. The bottom line is that you simply cannot do it all. You will start in a direction and add lots of stuff only to find out in a very real way that there are only 24 hours in a day. And if you stretch yourself too far, the joy of that homesteading life can turn into drudgery and a chore.

Here are some of the ideas we have either tried or at least talked about but have now fallen by the wayside.

The cashmere goats were brought onto the homestead to provide fiber to make yarn and knitted things. I wanted to make our clothes. Way back in the past I even had flax seeds ready to grow flax for fiber. Both of those things are full time operations. You would grow a small garden and have a few animals for yourself and the rest of your time would be spent on those projects. Would it be worth it? Perhaps it is a long-held dream for some of you. Go for it. For us, it was just another task that needed to be completed that never got done.

One project that has fallen by the wayside but may make a comeback in the future is cutting and stacking wood for the wood stove. For the past two winters, we have simply paid higher prices for electricity in the winter. Scott needed to work on the creamery. We have a wonderful wood stove that can heat our entire house in the winter and save lots on electricity. We shall see how that progresses in the future. It may be that we find someone else who is making wood cutting the center of their homestead operation and we just buy a few cords of wood from them. It will still be much cheaper than electricity.

Let’s see what else have we scrapped. My herbal tincture business. That was a fairly well-defined business. I studied for years, earned my degrees, and practiced my craft. But in the end, marketing more than one business is simply not practical. I still provide the needed herbal medicines for our family, but I no longer try to make it cost efficient. Making my own medicine from natural herbs still fulfills me. It’s great to know that I can take care of some of my medical needs. But in the end, becoming an herbalist that helps the community had to be put aside. It’s a full-time job in and of itself.

Follow Your Dream

I’m sure there are other things but you get the picture. We all start out wanting to do everything. Then reality sets in and we have to pick and choose. Once the creamery is built and our cheese business is in full swing, there are other things that we still want to do that we have not yet done. So as some things fall off, others come into greater focus. We love pork and chicken but have not had the time to master these two animals. Before the creamery we did not have them because they require daily care and we were not here every day. After we came to live here every day, the creamery became the focus of our efforts.

By next year, we will be ready to start these other new adventures that compliment our cheese operation. Both the pigs and chickens will benefit from the spoilage and waste generated by the cheesemaking business.

One really great thing I have learned about the homesteading lifestyle is that there is always something new just around the corner. And more often than not, it is a joyful thing. 

Final Thoughts

That’s about all I have time for today. Next time I’ll have great updates on the wonderful new animal babies on the homestead. We love spring time and new life.

I hope you’ve gotten some ideas to think about as you make your journey. Whether you are already in the process or still thinking about it, keep going, keep dreaming. It’s so worth it. And if it’s not your cup of tea, come visit us and benefit from the great food that we grow for you. We’d love to chat and show you around. Not everyone will be a homesteader. You just be the best YOU that you can imagine. Keep going. Keep dreaming.

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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Flavored Cheese

Have you considered flavored cheese in your home cheesemaking operation? Likely most of you are not making your own cheese. You’ll want to seek out some flavored cheeses from your local markets for a real treat. There are so many possibilities here that I couldn’t possibly cover them all in this short podcast. Today, I’ll give you just a brief overview of what you might consider in tasting and in creating with your cheeses.

Welcome 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 going to start off with what’s going on at the homestead and then I’ll get right into talking about some tasty flavored cheese.  

Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates

I want to start off with talking about our herd share program. We are opening up our raw milk cheese herd shares to more people. One full share will provide you and your family with about two pounds of our hand-made, aged, raw milk cheese per month. A half share will provide about one pound of cheese per month. We have four varieties from which to choose.

Our Peaceful Heart Gold is a danish Havarti-style cheese. It is a washed curd cheese that is soft, buttery and the sweetest cheese we make. Moving from the mildest to the sharpest, the next in line is our Ararat Legend. This is also a washed rind cheese made in the Dutch gouda tradition. It is a firmer cheese than the Gold with nearly as much butter flavor. This cheese ages well and the flavor deepens with each passing month. The next two kind of tie for sharpest, depending on how long they have aged. We have a wonderful aged cheddar and an alpine-style cheese we call Pinnacle. The flavor complexities of these two cheeses are amazing as neither is even ready to taste until 9 months or more of aging. Well, we do offer the milder cheddar at three and six months, but you will definitely want to wait for the good stuff.

Details and costs can be found on our website at Peaceful Heart Farm dot com. Product pickup is available at the Wytheville Farmer’s market, the Independence Farmer’s market and from our homestead. Support us or some other local farm. Keep good food alive. Give us a call and we can get you set up.


We are on calf watch with Rosie. This event is happening far ahead of our expectations. Her udder is developing and filling with milk. It may be only a matter of days. You never really know, any more than you know for humans, when the exact date will be for the event. She is looking good and Scott and I are feeling pretty good about Rosie and her calf. We are still cautious and watching her very closely, but again, she looks really good right now. Buttercup is doing a good job of keeping Rosie company. She is our only cow that is not going to have a calf this year.

After Rosie, next up for giving birth is Cloud followed closely by Claire. Butter and Violet are much further down the line, due in May and June respectively. And as I said, Buttercup is not having a calf this year. If all goes well, we will end up with five calves this year. Praying for some heifers.

Goats and Sheep

The sheep are doing well. Their expected delivery date is the 27th of March, so about a month more for them. We are likely to have six to eight lambs this year.

The goats have been reduced to five. Yes, finally I got moving on reducing our goat population. We are moving more rapidly toward changing over to meat goats. If you are new, we currently have cashmere goats. I had this grandiose idea that I was going to have time to gather their cashmere, have it made into yarn, and knit up some wonderful cashmere items. It took a few years for me to realize that I was not going to have time to include yet another enterprise into our business model. By that time, we had well over twenty goats.

Now these wonderful animals are great at keeping the pastures cleared of brush, briars and small pine trees. So, we definitely want to keep a few of them around. However, it makes much more sense for our homestead to have meat goats. That way they can keep the pastures pristine and also provide more nourishment for our family. Later this fall we will process the final five goats. At that point we will be in the market for a small herd of meat goats. Right now, I am focused on Kiko goats but would probably consider Spanish goats.


A few days ago, Scott and I went over the costs of raising these great birds. It’s pretty expensive according to my year-end profit and loss statement. My first, knee-jerk reaction was to just stop raising quail. However, after waiting a couple of days, I decided to break down the actual cost and how much we are benefiting from the eggs and meat.

Back in 2006, Scott raised just short of 150 chickens in the Joel Salatin-type chicken tractors. He calculated that it cost a little over $1 per pound to raise those chickens. Our cost to raise quail is somewhere between $5.50 and $6.50 per pound of bird. However, there are also the eggs to consider. Scott and I sat down and tried to come up with a better comparison. If we had to buy eggs, what would be our cost? Subtract that from the total costs, based on four quail eggs per one chicken egg, and the rest of the cost divided by the approximate weight of the birds raised for meat. The bottom line is that we decided to give the quail one more season to prove their worth. I also decided to feed them a little bit less. They did seem to be putting on quite a bit of unnecessary fat so this seemed the first place to cut a little cost. We shall see what happens this year. I’m going to keep better records.

I’m still anticipating when we will be able to build our chicken facilities. It won’t be this year. The quail get a well-deserved reprieve.  


I just received a couple of rolls of woven fabric ground cloth. Yes, we are about to get started on the garden. The biggest change this year will be the strawberry bed. I’ve order 500 bare-root strawberry plants. Yes, you heard that right. I ordered 500 plants. We are pretty much starting from scratch with our strawberries. I’m excited about this new opportunity.

I’m also going to start some plants for sale at the farmer’s market. If you are in my neighborhood, I should have some herbs, tomatoes and perhaps some green pepper starts ready for your garden. I’m not going to grow very many tomatoes or peppers this year but I really love growing plants. Growing for you guys seemed to be the best way to fulfil that desire to grow stuff. And I chose to grow some culinary herbs, because they are sometimes harder to find. I’ll keep you posted on which herbs I was successful in sprouting.

Flavored Cheese

Today want to talk a little bit about flavored cheese. If you’re making your own cheese at home, this could be a great adventure for you. On the other hand, if you’re just a real cheese head and love to try new cheeses, you might take a look at some of the cheeses available that have had either spices and seeds added or maybe they have herbs added, and some have been created using ale wine and/or spirits. You may even be able to find a cheese wrapped in leaves. These are just a few of the methods used to add various flavors to cheese. In this short podcast, I’ll be briefly touching on those flavorings that I just mentioned. There are others, but I’ll stick with these for today.

Seeds and Spices

The first flavoring I want to mention is seeds and spices. Your first thought when considering what seeds and spices to add should be the quality. You don’t want to use three-year-old dried herbs from your cabinet. Next, think of what you like. Now temper that with the thought that sometimes there’s a good reason that you haven’t seen that kind of cheese made. However, don’t let that thought stop you from experimenting. Sometimes it could be as simple as it not being economical to produce such a cheese on a commercial basis. If you’re making it in your own kitchen, the costs are much less of a factor. If you’re concerned at all, simply start with a combination that you’ve seen or tasted.

There are two things that you want to consider when preparing your experiment. Getting the right distribution and the size of the seed. I’ve seen lots of cheeses use whole peppercorns. Those are pretty big seeds so you would use less. On the other hand, if you have a small seed such as Caraway, you don’t want to put so many in there that you ruin the texture of the cheese. For a cheese maybe 2 gallons of milk, you are likely going to choose one to 3 teaspoons of your chosen seed or spice.

When you’re preparing your seeds and spices for addition to the cheese curd, you might consider boiling them for 5 to 10 minutes. There are couple reasons you might want to try that. If you suspect any kind of contamination or you want to soften a seed so that the flavors are more readily incorporated into the cheese.

Adding your seeds or spices can happen in a couple of different ways. Almost universally, the whey needs to have been drained. You don’t want to lose your spice with the whey. One of the easiest methods is to simply stir your seeds and/or spices into the drained cards. Another fun way would be to layer it in the mold. Put little curd in, add your spices, put more curd, add spices again and so on. You want to be careful with that method. There is always a chance that you will bunch your spices up too closely together and over spice one area while another would be under served. You may even have trouble getting the cheese to get together properly. The trade-off is the visual effect of layers.

Here are some of the most popular seeds and spices used in this method flavoring your cheese. I’ve already mentioned caraway seed and peppercorns. Other seeds might be mustard, fennel, fenugreek, or cumin. Some useful spices include cloves and red pepper flakes. Generally, you want to stay away from using herbs for aged varieties of flavored cheese. They will be prone to breakdown and change the color of your cheese. That’s not a good look. Herbs are most often used either mixed into a soft cheese or spread.  Or lots of times you’ll see them used as a coating on the outside of a fresh, soft cheese.

Ale, Wine, and Spirits

This is a great way to create a flavored cheese. And ale or beer can be incorporated directly into the cheese curd in the same way that the seeds and spices were added. Wine and spirits on the other hand, work better on the outside. This is most commonly done in washed rind cheeses. I briefly mentioned wrapping a cheese in leaves. Using alcohol to macerate the leaves, that is to soak them for a period of time, prior to wrapping the cheese is a favored practice.

Adding beer or ale, similar to adding seeds, happens after the whey has been drained. When making cheddar, it can be added after the cheddaring process has been completed and the curds have been milled. Otherwise, simply stir into the curds after they have been drained. You don’t need much. I also think it would be hard to use too much. Whether you pour the whole bottle into the curds made from your 2 gallons of milk, or you use only a half cup for your cheese and save the rest for yourself, that’s up to you. I’ll use a whole bottle for 15 or 20 gallons of milk. But again, I don’t think you can use too much.

There are several things to consider when deciding to use wine or spirits on your washed rind cheese. Because you’re adding wetness to the outside of your cheese, you can be prepared for softening. Sometimes, for a softer cheese, you might let your cheese dry for 2 to 3 days. Then begin the wash. Or, for a harder, drier cheese such as an alpine style, you can begin the wash right away. Something else to consider would be experimenting with the frequency of washing and the humidity in your aging room. The hardness of the rind and the texture of the cheese will also influence what your final results are going to be with the washing. Obviously, the softer rind is going to absorb more of the flavors.

Wrapping Your Cheese with Leaves

Many flavored cheeses utilize some type of leaf wrapping. Sometimes the leaves are dry, but more often they have been macerated in a strong alcohol, such as brandy or bourbon. This is a wide-open field. Choose your favorite spirit, and parent with your favorite leaf. Some leaves to consider are chestnut, maple, or grape.

Not all leaf-wrapped cheeses use spirits. Nettle, sycamore, or walnut are good choices here. Like with the herbs, you don’t want them to break down and become mush.

I hope you enjoy your experiments whether in making the cheese or trying out a new cheese from your local market.

Final Thoughts

I hope you’ll give some thought to becoming part of our herd share program. We’d love to be of service to you. Come on out to the homestead and see where it all happens. Say hello to Claire and the rest of the girls. Pet the donkeys. Be sure to wear rugged shoes and/or boots. Animals are messy creatures and if it has rained, omg, the mud.

I hope I’ve titillated your senses a little and you’re on your way to trying some new flavored cheese. Whether you’re making it from scratch or buying from your local market, your enjoyment is sure to be mooua, superb.  

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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