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We finally finished Haiti!

First, congratulations and thank-yous are in order for the 14 interns who helped build this structure:  Cameron Day, Alexa Zanikos, Grayson Middleton, Katie Black, Catherine Alvarez-McCurdy, Julian Cross, Annalise Carington, Dana Eardley, Meredith Prentice, Allison Vigil, Rachel Seidner, Jacob Klein, Riley Francis, and Sam Abney.

We tried to use all local or recycled/reclaimed materials for this dwelling.  This also involved some scrambling and changes of plans – like when we determined that we didn’t have enough tile shingles to make the roof how we had planned and switched to sawn-up door pieces.  The cement blocks were left on the property, the pavers were found piled in a field, the gravel subfloor came from our creek, and the doors were found lying in one of our fields as well.  We only had to buy mortar, some 2×6 rafters, and a few sheets of  plywood.  Now that’s building on a budget!

The first step of the process involved digging a deep trench for the foundation.  Since the ground freezes and thaws here, we had to make sure the heaving of the ground did not crack our mortar.  So with Cameron and Alexa – our first two interns – we dug a trench 30″ deep outlining the entire structure.  That part was definitely tedious and I felt bad for Cameron and Alexa because they only got to see the foundation of the building and nothing of the aboveground features.  After the trench was dug we filled the trench with concrete, leveled it, and let it cure.  Due to rain delays and the difficulty of the digging, that’s as far as we got in the first internship session.

The second step in the process was laying the cement blocks.  Everyone gained a new respect for masons.  The work is not conceptually difficult, but it is practically difficult.  Every block had to be “buttered” with mortar, lifted into place, and leveled.  Grayson, Katie, Julian, Annalise, Catherine, Dana, and Meredith all had a hand in mortaring during the summer of 2011 and together we all got the cement blocks up to the mid-thigh level.

When Dana and Meredith and I tired of mortaring blocks in August 2011, we decided to work on the floor of the dwelling.  All the dirt that you see piled in the middle of the structure in some of the pictures above was hauled off to the Cambodian structure to help form their rice paddy.  The remaining dirt was leveled and then we hauled in gravel from the creek to make a nice drainage bed for the pavers that would make up the floor.  Finally, we found the exact middle of the floor and began laying down the paver stones.

Then Dana and Meredith went home, ending the 2011 internship sessions.

When 2012 rolled around, we were determined to finish the Haitian dwelling as quickly as we could.  Allison, Sam, Riley, Jacob, and Rachel were rock stars.  They began mortaring and laid a level of blocks every morning and a level of blocks every afternoon until every block was in place.  Along the way, they inserted the windows and built a narrow “porch” roof.

The last step was to put on the roof.  We dropped 4×4 posts down into the corners of the dwelling to hook beams and rafters to.  We cut and lifted rafters into place and them laid plywood sheathing on top.  We waterproofed the plywood.  Since we did not have enough clay tiles to shingle the roof, we looked around and found lots of sawn-up exterior grade metal doors.  We decided these would make great shingles and threw them up on the roof.  I think those metal doors as shingles give the structure an especially ragtag look.

The interior of the dwelling has a hanging bucket system providing “running” water and a bucket sink that drains water away from the house.  Makeshift beds and some rickety furniture will complete the dwelling when we get closer to entertaining “guests.”



Dry Creek living up to its name.

See that creek there?  It’s usually more like a small river.  Couple feet deep, 60 feet wide.  Flows and everything.  Now it’s reduced to unconnected pools of standing water.  Even those are evaporating fast.  We have 3 other creeks crisscrossing our property.  All of them are dry.  We have 2 wells.  Both of them are dry.  We have 2 ponds.  One is mud and the other has a few inches of muddy water left.  And we are lucky.  On the ridge above us they’ve been out of water for a lot longer.

I’m sure everyone has noticed, but it’s frickin’ hot.  It’s bone dry.  Basically, going outside is like stepping into an oven.  Man, I’m sure glad I have an office job where it’s air conditioned and I don’t have to go outside and haul hundreds of gallons of water everyday.  Oh, wait…

I don’t remember the last time it rained.  I know it hasn’t rained at all since we came back from San Antonio.  That was a month ago.  I’m not sure when the last rain before that was.  We’ve had dark clouds, thunder, lightning, and high winds, but no rain.  Mother Nature’s a tease.

We planted corn, squash, and beans a month ago.  About half up it courageously sprouted only to wither in the blast furnace we called June.  We probably won’t get any flour corn this year.  We’ll try planting some more squash if it ever rains again.

All our plants are struggling.  The corn that has sprouted (and every other farmer’s around here) looks like garlic – it’s short, pale green, and thin-leaved.  We lost the blueberry bushes we planted.  I’m lugging water to the apple trees every other day, but I think we’re going to lose at least one of them.  The hundreds of little pawpaws, redbuds, and Kentucky coffee trees that did so well in their first year are about to go belly up in year two.

The animals are pretty unhappy.  We’ve made more shade shelters for them and moved some into the barns. We’ve moved the cattle and goats underneath the trees.  We check water 3 or 4 times a day instead of twice.  But we can’t make the grass grow.  Check out our pastures:

The grass literally crunches when you walk on it.  If you kick the ground, the dust flies.  We’ve got about 10 days worth of grazing left, then we’ll have to resort to feeding hay in order to buy enough time for the rain to come and the grass to regrow.  In the meantime, we’ll have to keep using city water to bring to the animals.  That’s not a fun haul.  The creeks we usually get water from (knee-deep little tributaries of the large creek) are bone dry:

One of our “permanent” streams.

The weatherman has predicted a 40% chance of rain tomorrow and a 50% chance on Monday.  The weatherman has been wrong for weeks though.  We need a significant amount of rain so if you know any rain dances or chants, now’s the time.

What I want to be doing at this time tomorrow.




We spent a while trying to locate a Red Poll bull to whom we could breed our cows and heifers this summer.  We first tried to rent or lease a bull, but we couldn’t find anyone east of the Mississippi who was willing to do that.  Finally, we decided that since we had two bull calves this year (meaning no heifer calves to breed next year), if we bought a bull we would be able to use him for at least two years’ worth of breeding before we would even have to worry about him encountering any breedable female relatives.

Our search led us to Brian Shuter at Shuter Sunset Farms in Frankton, Indiana.  Brian is another member of the American Red Poll Association and we had met him briefly at the 2011 National Sale in Danville.  He said that he had a bull available from his champion bull Tuff Enuff and a high EPD cow from Weise Farms in Kansas.  After talking to Brian, we decided to pull the trigger and get this bull for Good Life Ranch.

Russell’s sire – Shuter Sunset Farms’ Tuff Enuff
Photo courtesy of Shuter Sunset Farms

So on Friday I made the trek up to Indiana to pick up the young bull.  I got there just in time for the semen testing (yay), which the youngster passed.  He weighed 1175 lbs as a 14-month old.  He was good-sized, well filled out, had great conformation, and was docile.  Brian just threw a halter on him and led him to the trailer.  I hope that we can keep him halter trained.  That’s pretty convenient!

It was a long, hot day in the truck with the temperature over 100° F all day.  On the way back I stopped a couple times to fill up a 5-gallon bucket with water for the bull.  But he made it back in good shape and we got him into the paddock with the girls and the goats around dark.  Too dark for pictures, so I waited until the next morning:

Russell and Jack engage in a staring (and spitting) contest.

Don’t worry boys! You’ll be that size in a year, too.

Kickin’ up a dust storm – aka showing off for the ladies.

“What you lookin’ at, kid?”

I’m sure the yearling has an officially registered name, and we’ll find that out when Brian sends us the transferred registration papers next week, but we’ve decided to call him “Russell.”

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2012’s First Internship Session

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For the last 3 weeks we’ve had the pleasure of having 5 interns from the International School of the Americas helping us out on the farm.  Allison Vigil, Jacob Klein, Rachel Seidner, Riley Francis, and Sam Abney have been absolutely wonderful.  They accomplished more than any other group of interns so far – and every group we’ve had has been outstanding!

Some of the things they accomplished while they were here:

  • completed the halfway done Haitian dwelling (separate post coming soon)
  • started and finished an urban slum for Lifestyles Lane (separate post coming soon)
  • planted our 3 Sisters Garden
  • planted our popcorn and sweet potato garden
  • worked with our pigs and got them loaded up to go to the processor’s
  • put the broilers and replacement layers out to pasture
  • raised the rabbits
  • taught the turkeys how to free-range boomerang (come back to roost at night)
  • caught all the goats, weighed the kids, trimmed all the hooves, and herbally wormed the adults
  • rotationally grazed the cattle (and goats)
  • hauled tons and tons of water
  • moved all the rabbit hutches into the shelter of the barn

These guys and girls were absolutely tremendous.  Their major accomplishments will be detailed in subsequent posts, but their presence will be greatly missed.

For more pictures, check out the whole album on Facebook:


Rabbits Don’t Like Heat

In fact, they die from it.

Our grower rabbits are in movable tractors on grass but our adults are in raised hutches to help generate manure and compost for our gardens.  We deliberately placed the hutches on the north side of our barn so they would only get sunshine in the morning and would be near the chicken house so the chickens could stir the rabbit manure/straw mixture into garden compost for us.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.

Even though the rabbits had plenty of water and were in a sheltered location, we lost 6 rabbits to the heat today.  It’s been over 100° F for over a week now and I think it was just finally too much.

We moved all of the hutches into the barn.  It will be cooler in there but there will also be less sunshine to sterilize everything.

This weather needs to break soon.  If this is June, I’m really not looking forward to July and August.


Pig Day 2012

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This morning I took a bittersweet drive to the processor’s to drop off our four Gloucestershire Old Spot/Duroc hybrid hogs that we’ve been growing out for the last few months.  I am greatly looking forward to the pork but will miss our intelligent, friendly kitchen cleaners.  We haven’t used the disposal in the kitchen for months!

These pigs started out as 50-lb weaner hogs bought from Joe Ritchie.  He feels as strongly as we do about the disastrous effects of hormones, steroids, and routine antibiotics in the livestock industry and raises clean hogs.  He keeps some breeding pairs of Gloucestershire Old Spots and Durocs and crosses the two breeds for many of his meat hogs.  I bought his last 4 piglets of the spring and felt lucky to get them.

We brought the pigs home and set them to work composting the leftover hay mixed with goat and cow manure from the overwintering area.  The pigs feasted on the grains and scraps we threw down as well as cleaning up any edible remnants of the hay, clearing up some weeds, and digging for grubs and earthworms.  In the process they basically saved me the work of turning a huge compost pile.  They injected oxygen into the hay/manure mixture and helped speed the decomposition process.  The pigs also tilled the material into the top layer of soil for us.  We ran a wheel hoe cultivator over the top of it and then planted in it.  Even without rain for a couple weeks, the ground was moist and the corn, squash, and bean seeds sprouted within 48 hours.

After their service in the garden, the pigs spent the next few weeks rotating through some other areas, knocking down weeds, rooting up worms, and feasting on grasses and clover.  We learned a lot about rotating pigs – they won’t willingly cross where an electric fence used to be, for instance –  and look forward to raising them again.

After 4 months with us, the pigs are now officially hogs.  They weigh 270 lbs each and are ready to go to the processor’s.

The worst part was rounding up the hogs.  Now, that may seem like the easy part.  But convincing 4 270-lb pigs to go where they don’t want to go is not at all easy.  Next time we will have our corral facilities in place.  This time, we tried to entice them with food first.  That did not work.  Then we tried setting up a plywood chute into the trailer, herding the pigs in there, and closing them in with a third piece of plywood and forcing them into the trailer with it.  The pigs scoffed at us as they tossed the plywood aside.  Then I tried grabbing their rear legs and pulling them into the trailer.  That may have worked if we could have kept the pigs in the trailer each time we brought another one over.  Finally we put T-posts in the ground, attached hog panels to them forming a chute into the trailer, herded the hogs in and bent the panel behind them and tacked on another T-post.  Then I got in and pushed all the pigs into the trailer.  That odyssey took 7 people 2 hours.

We want to thank Kelly and Bryan, Chastity and Rob, and Melane and Doug for giving our pork a try.  We hope you enjoy it and we can’t wait to try our first home-grown pork chops next Wednesday.

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Goat Preschool

Goat Preschool

Most of the goat kids are 1 month old now and growing quickly.  We are taking their 30-day weights and most of the kids have made it to 20 pounds in their first month of life.  That’s great – it means that they are healthy and their does are producing plenty of milk for them.

Generally the kids are together in a big group that Lindsey has taken to calling Goat Preschool.

The kids are full of antics.  Every dusk they do this bouncing-around-the-paddock routine that is a combination of hide-and-seek, freeze tag, high jumping, and interpretive dance.  Sometimes the 2 Red Poll calves join in as well but they are shunned.  I can almost hear the goats saying “Too big!  Too big!”

One of the kids’ favorite activities is Cow Surfing.  The kids love to climb on everything – the wheelbarrow I leave for them to play on, the mineral tub and stand, the shade shack, each other – and they will climb on the cows when they lie down as well.  Every once in a while a kid will manage to hang on through the process of the cow standing up and will ride along on the cow’s back for a bit – Cow Surfing!


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Desmond & Tutu

On Sunday we traded Apollo, our wonderful Kiko herdsire, for 2 young up-and-coming Boer bucklings.  I really liked the Boer/Kiko cross (called Bokis) kids that we goat out of Apollo and Nadine.  They are heavy, stocky, and vigorous.  I am hoping that, since most of our does are Kikos, we can have a whole bunch of these great looking kids next year if we use a Boer buck over our Kiko does.  I’m hoping that the kids will inherit the good hooves and parasite resistance of the Kiko breed and the stockiness and meatiness of the Boers.

Meet the new boys:



These little boys are six weeks old, pure Boer, and growing really fast!  From a birth weight of 5 pounds each, they now weigh 33 and 34 pounds.  That’s a gain of almost 2/3 of a pound per day.  I really hope that they will help impart that rate of growth into their future kids.

They are virtually identical.  The ear tags will be essential to telling them apart.  Tutu, of course, got tag 22.

We will miss you Apollo, and we greatly appreciate the 10 healthy kids (with a couple more possible in the fall) and 2 new bucks you brought us during your 6-month sojourn at Good Life Ranch.

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Marion’s Calf

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Meet Martin!

Martin is the last of our calves and kids to join us in 2012.  He was born early this morning and his mother Marion had him right inside the daily paddock rather than breaking down the electric fencing and going off to a corner while setting all of the other animals free.  Since I had to go to work, I really appreciated Marion’s considerateness.

Martin is a half-brother to Lawrence, sired by the same bull last summer.  Half-brother can also be taken another way and still be literal, because while Lawrence checked in at a robust 105 lbs Martin joined us today at a much more reasonable 68 lbs.  I’d rather our calves be 70 lbs than 100 lbs just for the safety of the mother and to reduce or eliminate the need to pull calves.

Martin was freshly born when I encountered him at six o’clock this morning.  The morning fog was pretty thick, and I couldn’t see him until I was right up next to the paddock.  His mother was still trying to dry him off.  Martin was not so interested in being dried off, Martin was interested in milk.  He would not stand still for cleaning until he had gotten a good long drink of it.

After he finished his drink I weighed him, put iodine on his navel and umbilical cord, and gave him ear tag #2.

I’m looking forward to seeing him this afternoon after work.  I can’t stop worrying about him.  We are having “unseasonably warm weather” here in early May.  That’s the weatherman’s polite way of saying it’s going to be 90° today.  I hope he’s able to find the shade shack.

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Sales and Availability Update


Gloucester Old Spot/Duroc hybrid barrow. 

Just wanted to let everyone know about our sales and available meat products for the 2012 season.

Our first run of hogs have all been sold.  Thank you to Melane, Doug, Chastity, Rob, Kelly, and Bryan!  We have some interest in hogs ready for slaughter in the fall.  If you are interested, please shoot me an email or comment on this post and I will add your name to the list.


This little Kiko buck is growing fast!

We have sold our first goats – thanks Jennifer, Rachel, and Nick! – and we have two more available for 2012.  They are available for both breeding and eating.  Again, send me an email or comment below if you would like a goat so that we can work with you on the size you would like for eating or the characteristics you are looking for in a breeding buck.  If you are looking for a breeding buck, please contact us quickly, as the bucklings will be wethered when they reach 2 months of age.

The hens have hatched out 17 poults so far with 3 more hens still sitting on their eggs.  They will be ready for Thanksgiving and are really excellent!  Supermarket birds aren’t even close!  A $25 deposit will reserve a bird for your holiday meal and the first people to reserve get the first choice as to the size of bird they would like.  Please contact us to reserve your turkey.

Our first two litters have sold, but we definitely have more on the way.  Rabbits are $5 each if you would like to process them yourself and $10 each if you would like us to do it for you.

Chicken can be ready for you from 6 to 12 weeks after you order it, depending upon whether you would like the Cornish x White Rock hybrids or the older, tastier heritage breed birds.  Contact us and we can have a custom-sized order ready for you!

Eggs are pretty much always available.  They are $3.25 per dozen – $3.00 if you bring us an egg carton. Our chickens are completely free-ranging during the day and return to a predator-proof coop at night for protection.

Thanks to all of our great customers and we would love to welcome some new ones!

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