Category Archives: Random Farming Adventures

When the Neighbors Stop to Watch

As most readers probably know by now, we rotationally graze our cattle and goats.  That means we move our animals every day to a new area in the paddock using the electric fencing.  Around here, intensive rotational grazing is a new idea.  Most of the other livestock producers here, if they rotate their animals at all, will rotate them between 2-3 pastures every few weeks or months.  So seeing me moving cattle and goats every day has attracted a little bit of a following.

Some of the neighbors have taken to parking their trucks across the highway from our field and watching what I’m doing each afternoon while I’m moving the animals.  Sometimes there’s nobody there but other times there are as many as three pickups parked across the road.  Just watching.  If I was an attractive young lady I might find it creepy.

After the cattle and goats have left a paddock, I’ll run over it with the mower or weed whacker to knock down any of the plants that were too mature or otherwise unpalatable for the animals to eat.  Yesterday, as I was mowing the previous paddock down, one of the pickup-parking pentagenarians pulled off the road on our side of the highway, flagged me down, and we had the following conversation.  This is as close to verbatim as I can get.

Pentagenarian:  “What in the world are ya doin’ mowin’ yore pasture in December?  That grass ain’t gonna grow no more.”

Me:  “Yes sir, I know that.  I’m knocking down the grass the cattle didn’t eat so that it won’t go to seed and so that the cuttings add organic matter to the soil.”

Pentagenarian:  “Organic?  Are you one of them organic farmers?”

Me:  “No, we’re not certified organic.  I’m just talking about putting stuff down on the soil to decompose and help add fertilizer and nutrients to the soil.”

Pentagenarian:  “That’s what they make fertilizer for, son.”

Me:  “That’s one way to do it.  I like using the grass cuttings and the manure because it’s natural and I don’t have to buy it, store it, or spread it.  This way lets me buy left stuff.”

Pentagenarian:  “Well, I don’t know ’bout that.  You bought that there electric wire and rigged it up inside yore reg’lar fence.”

Me:  “That’s to move the cattle with.  Keeps ’em in one place in the field.”

Pentagenarian:  “It’s a lot less work if you just turn the cattle loose in there and let ’em graze.  I see you haulin’ that fence around ev’ry day, pushin’ their shelter around ev’ry day, haulin’ ’em water ev’ry day.  You should just put in a water line to a tank and put a feeder next to it and let them eat that.  Lots less work.”

Me:  “I know, but this way is better for the pasture as a whole.  If I left them to roam the whole field, then they’d eat their favorite plants every time they regrew a little bit, and sooner or later all that would be left in the field is the plants they don’t like.  This way the cattle are forced to eat or trample almost everything and then the plants have time to regrow before the cattle come back to that spot.”

Pentagenarian:  “Hmmm….”

Me:  “This way really thickens up the grass and soil.”

Pentagenarian:  “What’s soil got to do with raisin’ cattle?  I still think you should let ’em out of that little fence and give ’em a grain feeder.  Save you a lot of work.”

Me:  “That would save a lot of work, but we don’t feed grain at all so that’s not an option for us.”

Long, uncomfortable pause.

Pentagenarian:  “Son, yore a little different aren’t ya?”

Me:  “I guess so.”

Pentagenarian:  “I’d say so.  Well, I’d better get back to work.  Oh hey – why is yore mower so quiet?”

Me:  “It’s electric.”

Pentagenarian:  “Sigh.  You take care now.”

Now, for those of you reading this blog from a city, I may need to explain country vernacular to you.  The word “different,” for instance.  Out here, “different” is country polite for “crazy,” “touched,” “backward,” and “strange.”  It’s not good to be considered different.  For instance, all of our neighbors refer to the former owners of our property as “different.”  He was an arms dealer and sold semi-automatic weaponry from the property.  I’ve found RPG tails in the woods and he had a Gatlin gun mounted in the window of his shop when we toured the property.  That is different.  I move cows every day.  That is different, too.  I’m still working out whether or not there are varying degrees of differentness.  I hope so.

I knew we were going to farm differently.  I knew people would think we were strange for the way we were doing things.

I did not expect to have an audience while moving cattle 100 feet.

Eventually, I hope that some of these guys will notice the positive impact on our land and our animals that the rotational grazing is having.

In the meantime, anybody wanna sell tickets?

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Dana and Meredith

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Our final internship period of 2011 brought us Dana Eardley and Meredith Prentice.

Dana Eardley will be a senior at the International School of the Americas in the upcoming year and she decided to take this internship as an opportunity to further her understanding of the relationships between plants, animals and the folk that take care of them. Dana is very fond of the environment and is striving to learn the steps that we can take in order to preserve the land while still producing the food that we need in order to survive. Her interest in poverty education also encouraged her decision to take this internship as she sees Lifestyles Lane as a great way to educate students on the topic.

Meredith Prentice will also be a senior at the International School of the Americas next year. She was very eager to participate at Good Life Ranch having interest in sustainable farming and getting a chance to work with the land. Having a love of the natural world, she found this a great opportunity with the intention of dedicating future studies to the environment

We got a lot more work done during this final internship experience.  Dana, Meredith, and I continued work on the Haitian dwelling in Lifestyles Lane – making a lot of progress on the cinder block walls and completely finishing the paver floor.  We also integrated Captain Jack, the new livestock guarding alpaca, into the herd of goats.  The gardens are into their heavy harvest period now as well, and we spent a great deal of time harvesting and preserving our garden vegetables.  We made pickles, froze pounds and pounds of beans, made salsas and jellies, and canned pear preserves.

Meredith and Dana were great workers and we will miss them a lot!

 

The Fab Five

The last 3 weeks have been extremely hectic and productive.  So hectic and productive that I haven’t found any time to blog about all of the progress we’ve been making here at Good Life Ranch.  We’ve also had 5 wonderful interns living with us, so getting some computer time during breaks has been a challenge.  They were such a fun group!

Joining us for the past 3 weeks have been Catherine Alvarez-McCurdy, Katie Black, Annalise Carington, Julian Cross, and Grayson Middleton.  Catherine joins us after graduating from the International School of the Americas before she goes to the University of Chicago in the fall.  Katie and Annalise are both graduates of Alamo Heights High School and are attending George Washington University and Middlebury College, respectively.  Julian is a sophomore at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.  Grayson is a rising senior at the International School of the Americas.  All of them were absolutely wonderful people and very hard workers – we were so lucky to have been able to convince them to come!

We got so much accomplished while they were here.  I’ll try to list everything, but I’m sure I’ll forget something so the Fab 5 are free to comment and add anything I forget.  In those 3 short weeks we:
1.  Completely built the Cambodian structure in Lifestyles Lane out of lumber and bamboo (more on that in the next post).
2.  Started laying the cinder blocks for the Haitian Lifestyles Lane structure on top of the footer that previous interns Alexa and Cameron helped dig, pour, and level.
3.  Completed our first sales at the new farm stand.
4.  Cleaned out the spring crops in the garden and got the summer crops planted.
5.  Visited farmers’ markets in Bowling Green to pick one to join next year.
6.  Made lots of progress installing the cedar fence posts for the new fence in the front field.
7.  Raised a batch of broiler chickens to processing age, processed them, and sampled them in fried chicken and chicken and waffles.
8.  Started 2 new batches of broiler chicks, a new group of rare Magpie ducklings, and a new group of guinea keets.
9.  Maintained the road up to the top of the hill.
10.  Picked the blackberry crop and processed them into lots of great jam.
11.  Learned that ground cherry jelly is the absolute best!
12.  Survived stitches, upset stomachs, an orthodontical malfunction, a ticket for kayaking sans life jacket, and 110°+ heat indices.
13.  Managed to keep up with all of the regular farm chores as well.

I can’t say enough good things about this group of people.  They were just amazing.

Enjoy the pictures!

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Interns!

Cameron & Alexa pose by Goatel 2.0

Our first interns arrived this week!  Here are their introductions:

Cameron Day is 17 and a junior at the International School of the Americas in San Antonio, Texas. The owners of Good Life Ranch, Geoff and Lindsey McPherson, are both former teachers of his and he was interested in helping them out as soon as he heard about this new endeavor. He is very interested in poverty elimination because he feels that in too many societies large portions of the population are held captive by economic inequalities. He feels that if these inequalities can be eliminated or at least lessened then society will become more fair and free. The first step in eliminating a problem is raising awareness and hopefully the simulations at Good Life Ranch will raise awareness of the different types of poverty that exist elsewhere in the world. He first became interested in this sort of work after he attended a similar poverty simulation at Heifer Project International, so he hopes to help provide other students with the kind of experience he had at Heifer. In his free time he likes to play guitar in a band. Cameron is most excited about building the Cambodian and Haitian structures.

Alexa Zanikos is also 17 and a junior at the International School of the Americas in San Antonio, Texas. Geoff and Lindsey McPherson are her former teachers, and she jumped at the chance to set out on an adventure in sustainable farming with them. Alexa’s interest in sustainable farming was sparked by her dad, who since retirement has set out on a similar journey into sustainable, hardcore gardening in the backyard. She is excited to apply the skills her father has taught her here at Good Life Ranch and bring the skills she learns here back home. Her family has a passion for food and the environment, which manifests itself in a quest to “get off the food grid” by eating as much as we can from her dad’s garden and making as much of our own food as possible (homemade bagels anyone?).  Besides food, farming and school, Alexa is a dancer in the San Antonio-based youth dance company Insight Dance Ensemble.

Today Alexa, Cameron, Lindsey, and Geoff spent the afternoon building Goatel 2.0 – a second goat shelter to replace Goatel 1.3 that the goats destroyed last week.  Goatel 2.0 features heavier construction (2×8’s versus 1×6’s), wheels placed to allow more ground clearance, a slanted roof for better rain runoff, and tarp covering the roof and most of 3 sides of the structure.  After building it we wheeled it down the road and into the goat paddock.  Everyone approved of Goatel 2.0.  Now let’s hope it’s sturdy enough to stand up to several years of goat abuse.

Goatel 2.0

Goatel 2.0

Other projects we’ve started with Alexa and Cameron: weeding the Three Sisters Patch (corn, squash, and beans); planting more hot-weather veggies, weeding and mulching the vegetable gardens, hauling rocks to build the herb spiral, staking out the first Lifestyle Lane structure, and breeding rabbits.  Of course, this is in addition to the normal daily routine of moving goats, poultry, and rabbits as well as feeding and watering everyone.

Welcome Alexa and Camerson!  Glad to have you!

Dodging Raindrops

Lately it seems the skies always look like this.

Supposedly April showers bring May flowers.  They did.

What do May showers bring?

I need to know because it has been raining for what seems like weeks on end.  The county farm data bank says that in an “average year” (what’s that?) the county has gotten 22.76″ of rain by this date.  So far on our ranch we have gotten 35.48″, or over a foot more than average.  It rained another half-inch last night during our latest round of severe weather.  So in a word, our spring has been soggy.  As I’m writing this it just started raining again.  Really hard.  So by the time I’m done with this sentence those precipitation numbers will be outdated.

Most of the garden plants seem to enjoy it so far.  The lettuces and broccoli and onions are all growing well.  All the greens are going like gangbusters.  The spinach showed its strength.  The garlic seems less thrilled, though.  The tomato plants have been repeatedly snapped in high winds even in their cages (no, we don’t have free-range tomatoes).  The corn has yet to come up because it was so recently planted, but I’m hoping that it won’t rot in the sodden ground before it has a chance to sprout.

Our philosophy about heritage varieties of animals and plants also extends to corn.  Some people in the local and sustainable food movement have unfairly painted corn in pretty bad light.  After all, who’s making the decisions here – a plant or the humans who propagate it?  Corn is an amazing plant with a lot to like.  First, it’s native to the Americas.  It was bred and developed by the indigenous peoples here.  It is a tough plant that will grow almost anywhere there is a modicum of water and fertility.  It stores almost indefinitely.  And it has been grown and adapted to so many varied locales that there is an incredible variety from which to choose.  In other words, farmers don’t have to grow #2 field corn for the commodities market.  In fact, if you want to eat it you shouldn’t grow that type of corn at all.

We got some old-school varieties of corn from neighbors and seed cooperatives to plant on about 1/4 acre.  I baled hay for our neighbor Joshua a while back in exchange for him tilling up the area where we had the goats deposit all their winter manure for us to plant.  He did a great job with the tilling and then Lindsey and I leveled it with shovels and rakes.  Finally, the weather cleared for 2 consecutive days and it dried out enough for me to plant it yesterday.  Texas Honey June, Blue Jade, Golden Bantam, Floriani Red Flint, Bloody Butcher, Reid’s Yellow Dent, and Daymon Morgan’s Kentucky Butcher corn all went into the ground.  Those links are not necessarily the sources for our seed, but they were the best pictures I could find of the varieties we planted.  The Texas Honey June, Blue Jade, and Golden Bantam are all sweet corns that we can eat or freeze.  We’ll plant more of those varieties every two weeks or so to make sure we’ve got fresh sweet corn all summer long.  The other corns are for drying.  The Floriani Red Flint supposedly makes the world’s best polenta.  Since polenta is basically fancy grits, I can get on board with that.  The butcher corns are for flour and decoration, and the Reid’s Yellow Dent will provide some winter food for our poultry.

I know 1/4 acre doesn’t sound like much, but that’s about the limit of what I think we can care for doing everything by hand.

In other news, the rabbits, turkeys, and chickens are growing quickly.  We’ve sold quite a few of the Black Australorps and Kentucky Redneck chickens to people who wanted to start their own flocks.  The rest we’ll grow out as meat birds or add to our layer flock in the Yolkswagen.  The rabbit does we have are really bad mothers, but hopefully in a few generations we can breed for good mothering instincts.  So far out of 4 litters we have only 10 bunnies to show for it.  The rest have been rejected or killed by their own mothers.

Guinea keets are hatching in the incubator as we speak.  This is especially good news because another rogue cat has been systematically eliminating the guineas one by one.  We’re down to 4 adult birds and 1 juvenile from the 18 we had 2 weeks ago.  Those last ones are cooped up at the moment to eliminate the food source and encourage the cat to move on.  This is a sneaky cat.  Usually I see them hanging around, but this one is either very wary or has some sort of cloaking capability.

Our Black Spanish hens have not returned yet.  If they were nesting, their poults should have hatched out last weekend.  Then I imagine they keep them in the nest until the poults are capable of following the hen around.  Every day I look forward to seeing them, and every day my heart sinks just a little bit when they don’t return.  Yesterday one of the chocolate hens that has been going off by herself a lot during the day didn’t come back to the turkey roost at dusk, so now we might have another month-plus wait while she sits on her nest.  Natural farming is stressful!  I want to let the animals nest on their own and raise their own young, but it’s so hard to sit and wait and hope that they are able to hatch out their eggs and brood their poults before a predator finds them.  We have so much financially and emotionally invested in them at this point that it would be heartbreaking to have them not return.

The last bit of news is in the Lifestyles Lane department.  We should get a good start this summer with all the helpers coming out to the ranch and we plan on completely 2 of the more intricate structures this summer.  Hopefully more, but 2 is the definite attainable goal.  Our friends Adele and Bonnie are visiting, my brother and his friends are coming out, and we have 9 interns coming to the farm in June, July, and August to help build the structures and learn about sustainable farming.  We will begin introducing them to you as they arrive on the ranch in mid-June, but we are getting excited for their arrival.

Flowers of Spring

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It’s a rainy, windy, 33° morning on the farm.  But this morning we also have the first flowers of spring.

Happy Birthday, Farmerlady!

 

2 Days of Rain

The water's just about right for Lindsey to kayak to Nashville.

As you can probably see in the picture above, we’ve gotten several inches of rain in the last two days – 3.89 inches, to be exact.  Thanks to Mom and Pop for the weather station for Christmas!  Now we can measure our weather accurately.

The ranch animals take the weather with different attitudes.  The goats look miserable sloshing around in the pasture.  Sgt Pepper loves splashing through the puddles.  The chickens act as if nothing is out of the ordinary.  And the turkeys just look really confused about why there’s water up to their knees.

The rain and the changing season has also brought new wildlife.  I’ve seen loons and Canada geese on the ranch for the first time in the last 2 days.  The geese enjoy the new pond/extremely large puddle that the rain has created between Via San Miguel Road and the pasture fence.

The "new pond" is getting so large that Canada geese are landing on it.

But the most drastic changes occur in the creeks.  The 4 more or less permanent creeks are all right below the rims of their banks and we’ve added a few dozen smaller creeks in the last couple days.  New channels pop up every time there is a new downburst.  Of course the inaptly named Dry Creek has the most water.

Saturday Stroll

Just some photos Lindsey and I snapped while we took an hour or two to walk around.  Enjoy!

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It Did Not Work

The mink returned last night, dug underneath the chicken tractor “protecting” all of the Rhode Island Red 4-month-old chickens, and proceeded to kill every single one of them.  The mink ate the head off of one chicken and killed the rest for sport.  So in less than a week this mink has killed off an entire generation of laying chickens.

Internships

Good Life Ranch is proud to announce that we will be able to bring on interns in 2011.  We have 3-4 spaces available in March and 12 spaces available in Summer, 2011.  We are looking for individuals who would like to learn more about sustainable farming.  You can apply online by visiting the following link:

Good Life Ranch Internship Application

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

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