I’m back, finally with a new year, new projects. Hope you are doing well. I hope you had wonderful Christmas and New Year celebrations with your families and friends. It has been four months since I’ve talked with you all. It takes a great deal of time, energy and money to make this podcast happen. More on how you can support us later in the podcast. For right now I want to say how much I appreciate all of you. I’m putting forth the effort to get back on track and to once again interact with all of you. I’ve been slacking and you deserve more from me. We’ve all been lonely and isolated these past two years. I intend to bring a little bit of love and light into each of your lives.
I’ve always talked about tradition and the value of tradition. From summer 2021 into winter 2022, I’ve come to appreciate God and our Lord Jesus Christ in a deeper fashion. Probably none of you know that I am Catholic. If you do know that, it will probably not surprise you that I attend the Traditional Latin Mass. It’s just another place that tradition permeates my life. I’ll continue to talk about traditional homestead living and our traditional raw milk products and artisan cheese. But don’t be surprised if you hear more exclamations like glory to God or praise God or praise Jesus. We all need more reminders that we are loved.
I’ve started a Locals community. It’s a place where we can come together and talk about whatever we want. There is no censorship. Think along the lines of a Facebook Group page. Everyone is posting, commenting and supporting one another. There is no cost to become a member and get access to these podcasts as well as select other content. Pictures of the animals I talk about. Maybe even some short videos.
In order to support me and this podcast, I’m looking for people to become paid subscribers. The biggest advantage you have in becoming a paid subscriber is that because there is a little bit of financial investment, there are no trolls. Should someone be willing to paying the minimal monthly fee only to come in an harass our community, I can remove them. We have complete autonomy within our community. And no one is going to collect your data and sell it for advertising. That’s not what Locals is about. In fact, it is designed to free us from that intrusion into our personal lives by technical oligarchs getting rich from our love for each other. I urge you to check it out. Support this podcast by becoming a paid subscriber – or just enjoy the free stuff. That’s perfectly fine too.
I’m considering starting a subscription-only group of followers over on the Locals platform for those that are looking for more faith in their daily lives. Whether you have your own homestead, dream of having one or are perfectly satisfied living the suburbs and purchasing food from your local farmer, faith plays a part in all our lives. And definitely let me know if you are interested in participating in religious conversation in an interactive way on the Locals platform. I’m still trying to figure out how the plat form will allow me to separate this content from the rest. Sort of like how to make a playlist for specific content topics.
Again, to support the show, become a paid subscriber. Again, it’s not required. However, when I make a post, a paid subscriber (which is $5 per month) can do more than comment. You can make your own post on the topic or post o a topic of your choice to start a conversation. Other paid subscribers can comment on your posts and/or mine. It is a community. Enough of all that. Check it out and let me know what you think. If you have trouble figuring out what you need to do, email me (at email address).
Let’s get on with the podcast.
Appreciation for All of You
It has been about four months since I’ve talked with you all. There is so much that has happened I can’t possibly just pick up where I left off last fall and go forward. Nope, I’m just going to start from where we are and go from there. If there is something I’ve talked about in a previous episode that is still hanging in the air that you need an update on, just let me know in an email. Messaging is also available on Locals for paid subscribers and free on our Facebook page. Just type in Peaceful Heart Farm in either platform and we should pop right up.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
It’s 2022. Scott is healing well. I’m still a little unsettled but on the upswing at the moment. There is so much going on I hardly know where to begin. As usual, the cows are the stars. But keep listening. I can only do so much in one podcast. While today may be dedicated to the cows, I’ve got some wonderful dog and sheep tales to tell. I’m going to keep to the cows in this podcast and expand to the others animals as I go along so you can all catch up with the homestead’s evolution.
Additionally, I’m going to start a series on developing your own food production system. Today I will begin with the basics of gardening. But first, the cows.
If you are a veteran listener, you already know about our girls. For the newbies, here is a rundown of our Normande and Jersey girls.
Claire and Buttercup are the oldest Normande girls. They were the original stock we purchased way back in 2011. From the moment we purchased this breed, I fell in love. They are the gentlest cows I have ever had the pleasure of husbanding. If you haven’t ever heard of this breed, check out our Locals page or our Facebook page. You will be able to see pictures of these beauties. Their coloring is unique.
The two matriarchs are now 12 and 11 years old respectively. Cows can go up to 15 to 20 years depending on the breed. But this is likely Claire’s last calf before she retires. She has had consistent issues with mastitis and now produces only enough milk to feed her calf. To be a viable business, we need more than that. It has been fine over the past years because we were not fully operational as a dairy, but that is coming to an end this year. At least we hope so, barring any further unforeseen medical issues or some other catastrophe. And, according to the vet, Buttercup has gotten too fat to conceive easily. She has not taken this year or last year. That means early retirement for her as well. Who knew that we had such healthy and abundant grass? But she is not even giving us a yearly calf. It’s just money down the drain because the girl can chow down on some grass and hay. We love our original girls and it will be hard letting them go.
Violet and Cloud came to the homestead next. Cloud is a year older than Violet but she is also slated for replacement. Cloud is ¾ Normande and has never been an ideal cow for milking. I don’t recall why we purchased her. Perhaps because she was bred at the time and Claire, back at home, was not. Anyway, she is a lovely cow but does not fit our dairy operation.
While Violet has been a bit of a problem, we will get her back on track next year. Last time she was bred, she didn’t deliver until June. That’s the exact time that we are breeding again for calves to be born the next spring in March and April. Cows have a nine-month gestation period just like humans. Because she delivered so late in the year, she is out of the rotation for breeding this time around. We expect her to be fine for next year. She’s a great mom, a moderate milk producer, and she produces beautiful calves. That’s it for the older girls.
I’m going to throw in here a short saga of how we came to purchase Jerseys which I will get to in a minute. They are next on the list of cows added to the homestead.
Some years back, we ran into a drought situation. I’m thinking it was around 2014 or 2015. We had lots of cows, calves and about 70 sheep. No rain for an extended period of time and all of sudden the pastures were gone. Pastures are the lifeblood of our operation. We aren’t animal farmers so much as grass farmers. We acted quickly. We sold all of our steers and heifers as well as most of the sheep. We dropped the sheep count to six, one ram and five ewes. I don’t recall how the number of cows that we kept. I’m thinking about 5 or 6. Claire, Buttercup, Cloud, Violet, Lilly (who is gone now) and Dora (who died a few years ago following a premature delivery and infection). So that is six. The pastures began to recover now that there weren’t so many animals eating it down.
The next year after the drought, we sold all the calves again and the pastures recovered. Following that recovery, we seemed to have had nothing but bull calves. So here we are in need of cows that we can milk. We also culled one cow, Lilly, that we probably should have kept. Two years in a row she didn’t conceive so we culled her. Later we found out that we probably could have treated her and she would have been fine. These are learning experiences that we will share with you as we talk more about raising your own food. And then Dora died nearly three years ago. She had some kind of infection and delivered about two weeks early. The vet saved her calf and treated her as best she could, but did not give us a favorable prognosis. Dora died three days later. At that point we were reduced to only four milk cows. So, bring on the Jerseys.
About 3 or 4 years ago, we purchased a registered A2A2 Jersey heifer. A fellow vendor at the farmer’s market was getting out of the herd share business (that’s the legal way to provide raw milk to families in Virginia) and asked if we were interested in picking up the slack. We purchased Butter from her to supply the extra need for milk. That’s how our herd share operation got started.
The next learning experience was artificial insemination. We had also sold our herd bull somewhere along the way. Our first AI experience produced a shortage of cows having calves and freshening with milk. In short, even with Butter producing her wonderful abundance of Jersey milk, we did not have enough milk for our herd shares and cheesemaking.
In comes Rosie. Rosie was also a registered Jersey A2A2 heifer. I was skeptical, but Scott said he had a good feeling and we made the leap of faith. Rosie was bred when she was just nine months old. That’s equivalent to a young teen pregnancy. She was scheduled to give birth at 18 months. That is a whopping six months too young in conventional wisdom. But again, Scott had a good feeling about it and she produced a beautiful heifer calf. So now we have three registered Jersey cows/calves. It was beginning to look like the herd was shifting to another breed. But Au contrare. I’m not putting up with that. We want the center or our operation to be Normande cows.
Being aware of our continued shortage of heifers, we have been on the lookout for replacement stock for a couple of years. Normande cows and heifers are not easy to find in this area of the country. This fall, we finally bit the bullet and Scott drove all the way to Wisconsin to pick up three new heifers. (By the way, for newbies, a heifer is a female bovine animal that has not yet had a calf. She doesn’t graduate to officially being a cow until she has successfully delivered her first calf.) Anyway, Scott and “almost son-in-law” left for Wisconsin around 11:00 pm on a Saturday night. They drove through the night and arrived Sunday evening nearby to the target farm with just time enough to have a nice dinner and get a good night’s sleep at a local hotel. The next morning, they arrived at the Wisconsin farm and were loaded up in ½ an hour. It’s now Monday morning about 8:00. The return trip took almost 24 hours. Yes, it was Tuesday morning around 7:30 before they got home and unloaded our new girls.
Our New Girls
It’s time to meet Wanda, Ginger and Molly. For our cheese operation we need specific genetics to make the best cheese possible. These girls have it. Genetically they are all A2A2 with the BB kappa casein protein. Wanda and Ginger are percentage Normande. At 75% Normande and 25% Guernsey/Milking Short Horn, their calves will be considered pure bred Normande when adding in a pure-bred French bull. We like the 25% being milking genetics. Another issue with getting Normande cattle is so many of the large breeders are breeding for meat. We will still get decent meat production from our steers, even with milking genetics. But we need good udders and sufficient milk production to be a profitable dairy and cheesemaking operation. So, these girls fit the bill perfectly for everything we were looking for in breeding stock.
Wanda and Ginger are mostly Normande. Molly is quite beautiful, but she is 75% Jersey. Again, good milking genetics. She will be bred later this year along with everyone else and we will use full blood Normande semen. Her calves will be 62 or 63% Normande. Those calves will be registered and then bred again to a different full blood Normande bull and that offspring will be 82% Normande and considered pure bred. And the percentage continues to go up from there. Sometimes the only way to get what you are looking for is to breed it yourself. Another trip to Wisconsin is just not what we want. Molly had the genetics and could be quickly useful in adding Normande genetics to our herd. And did I mention how beautiful she is?
Breeding for Genetics
The bull semen we purchased also has the proper genetics. A2A2 and BB kappa casein protein. All of the offspring from these new heifers will have the proper genetics. I guess I left out the piece that none of the current cows had the complete set of proper genetics. Butter, Claire and Buttercup have the A2A2 genetics. Violet is A1A2 but has the BB kappa casein trait. We have one other heifer who will have her first calf this year. Luna is out of Cloud. Cloud is also A1A2 and she does not have the bb kappa casein trait. Again, she is a wonderful cow that we used as a nurse cow, but we really need the proper genetics and we only have so much land to raise these animals. Those that don’t fit the bill need to go somewhere else.
Luna’s test has been sent off but we do not have the results yet. She has very strong Angus genetics and I am not hopeful that she has what we need. It shows in her coloring. Likely she will not actually produce milk in the quantities we are looking for in a cow. On the upside, she will make someone a great family cow and we will sell her as such next year or later this year. Likely her production will produce just enough milk for a family looking to provide milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter for themselves and their children. She will also produce beautiful calves that can be raised for beef. It’s a win-win for a family.
So, to wrap that up. We are culling our three oldest cows for one reason or another and replacing them with these wonderful new heifers. Going forward we are looking to grow the herd with the proper genetics.
Just a brief word on the quail. I have no idea where I left off with them. Their actual number at this time is even a mystery to me. We had one last batch hatched out in September. It was a poor hatch rate. I was trying to refresh our genetics but it was a little late in the year for hatching quail.
These newbies went into the upper left penthouse to finish growing. All of the roosters had been cleared out of the other cages. I was looking for new roosters from this last hatching. When they were big enough, I took roosters out of that penthouse and put them in with the girls in the other four cages. One got mauled and died, but the rest are doing fine as best I can tell. We also lost one or two hens that just up and died. It is not an unusual occurrence. You go out there one day and one of them is just cold and lifeless. I’m not so attached to the quail as to the cows, sheep and dogs, so I don’t lose much sleep over this.
Anyway, they are doing well. I feed them once a day but need to refresh their water usually twice a day if it is freezing outside. We usually get anywhere from 24 to 30 eggs. Although yesterday I got a grand total of six after a really cold couple of days. I have lots of quail eggs and we just started giving the dogs and occasional quail egg treat. They loved them.
Dairy Parlor and Creamery
Scott was temporarily out of commission over the past six months or so due to his cancer treatment but he is back on track now. He takes all of the cow girls through the dairy barn area a couple of times a week. It’s important for them to get used to the routine there. Right now, he just lets them mill about and get used to everything there. In the future he will move them around inside the parlor and get them used to going where he wants them to go. But getting them familiar is the first step. Cows are very wary of anything new or different. Once they have been there a few times and found that nothing actually happens, it’s time to move to the next step.
As far as the building aspect of the creamery, the electrical wiring is the next step. On the drive home from Sunday Mass, we often talk about plans. Scott told me yesterday that he only needs to get the milking parlor, milk room and cheese make room up and operational to get us inspected. After that, he will gradually put together everything else. The bathroom, the large cheese cave and the kitchen. It is important that we get to a point where we can pass USDA inspection so that we can actually begin making money. This has been a long project, has cost us a lot more money that either of us ever expected and with the medical bills, it’s time to get some cash flow coming our way, God willing. I love selling meat, sauces, and jams at the smaller farmer’s markets but look forward to selling much larger quantities of cheese to local restaurants and wineries.
If you are one of those that is getting more and more interested in growing more of your own food, this next part is just for you. I’m going to lay out, to the best of my ability, some thoughts and actions that you can take to start growing more of your own food. We’ll start with gardening and later add growing various meat products and processing them.
Raised Beds or No Raised Beds
From large plots of land that contain acres down to a few containers on your balcony, everyone can do something to grow their own food. With the current supply chain disruption, this becomes more and more important for simply feeding your family.
Let’s start with what kind of gardening you will be doing. I’ll stick to what I know and offer a few additional notes as I go for ideas on how you might modify my ideas to fit your particular situation.
I prefer the raised beds. They are not required. You can even begin in containers on your balcony if you live in an apartment. There is always a little bit that can be done. Of course, sowing your seeds directly into the ground is an age-old method of gardening. In any case, what becomes most important is the soil. Let me go over what to expect in that regard.
I’m assuming that you have not done any vegetable gardening up to this point. Or perhaps you did a little and gave up because it just wasn’t working out. You decided you had a brown thumb. Well perhaps you just need a little more information to be successful. And keep in mind that it is a process. The soil will need to be worked and maintained throughout every single year of gardening. As each year passes, the soil improves.
Container Gardening Soil
First let me address container gardening. This may be the one instance where the soil is nearly perfect from the start. Don’t use garden soil. Use a potting mix. You can’t till or work the soil very well in a container. Therefore, you need soil that will be loose and retain water. There are several organic fertilizers that you can use to amend the potting mix depending on what happens with your plants. We will get to that later. Right now, we are trying to create the environment where seeds will sprout and plant starts will take hold. For container gardening I recommend using potting soil as it comes complete with vermiculite to keep the soil from compacting and to help with holding water. Every one I have seen also comes with fertilizer included. Let me know if you have any questions about this. I’ll put a more detailed description and explanation on Locals.
Raised Bed Garden Soil
Because you are using a specific sized area to garden, often it is not too expensive to fill your beds with organic soil. It depends on how many beds you want to create and how high you make the sides of your raised beds.
In our case, the raised beds are 24” from the ground. Scott stacked cinder blocks 3-high. They are 8 inches each so that is 24” from the ground. Next, he put in lots of old chunks of wood. This serves two purposes. It fills in a lot of the space that would otherwise need to have some kind of soil and it also provides a longer-term source of fertilizer. The tree chunks eventually break down and create nutrients in the soil.
Next, he added any kind of soil that he could scrape up from around the farm. We have several piles of dirt that were scraped up when some trees were being cleared. He filled each bed to within four to six inches of the top.
The last few inches, contained organic material from other places around the homestead. When the cows are eating hay in the winter, they all gather around the bale and eat to their heart’s content. Out their other end, the fertilizer is deposited on the hay that has been pushed out of the hay ring. While going to and fro to the hay ring, they tread on this mess of hay, poop and pee and mash it up into a great big pile of soon-to-be composted material. Each year, Scott moves the hay rings around to other locations. That spreads out the mess – I mean compost. At any given time, he can go out there where a hay bale was a year or two earlier and just dig up that black gold and put it on the garden. He scoops it up in the tractor bucket and brings it over to the garden.
Every year, new composted material needs to be added to the soil. After about three years or so, the soil will be getting really, really good. But don’t expect too much from the first year or two, even if you purchased the most expensive compost you could find. It takes time for the soil to settle down and begin to create all the little bugs, bacteria and such that are necessary for really fertile soil. The longer you work a particular piece of earth, the better is gets. That is, if you are continually amending the soil.
Till the Earth
If you’ve got the time, the energy, and the space, you can till up the soil and plant directly into the ground. This method takes the longest to start to produce a crop that will fully meet your expectations. Start with a few inches of compost on top – and it will take a lot of compost for even a ¼ acre. Every year, add another layer of compost on top. That, combined with regular fertilization during the growing season is the way to creating the perfect soil.
That’s about all I have time for in this podcast. These were just the briefest descriptions of what it takes to get started in gardening. Look for more information on our Locals.com community.
That’s it for today’s podcast. It’s so good to be back with you. Again, I hope you all had a wonderful and blessed Christmas and are experiencing a joyous New year. We had friends and family over and had a wonderful time. I hope you did as well.
We continue to move forward with our homestead plans. The updates on the cows are just the beginning. There is so much more with the sheep and our beautiful livestock guardian dogs. Look for more on that in the next podcast.
I hope you enjoyed the garden planning topic and if you have questions, check out our Locals.com community for more information.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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