Tag Archives: farming

Community Supported Agriculture

As our first growing season here at Good Life Ranch begins to close, we are already starting to think about next year’s production.  This year we’ve been learning the ropes of our new climate and ecosystem, figuring out how to raise the heritage breeds as naturally as possible, building up our infrastructure, and trying out different vegetable and fruit crops.  At this point we are feeling pretty confident in our ability to produce food in a small scale, sustainable way.

So what are we thinking about next year?

Well, here at Good Life Ranch, we are interested in building a local food network.  We want to provide nutritious, flavorful, and sustainably-grown food to the people of Kentucky.  We would rather not grow huge acreages of monocultures to sell into the commodities markets nor mass-produce animals for meat.  Neither of those things is sustainable nor treats the living creatures with the respect they deserve.  Most American farms now do one of those two things, and many small family farms are being driven out of business because of it.

The solution for both the conscientious consumer and the small farmer may be through community-supported agriculture.  In this partnership, the consumers (or “shareholders”) are provided with fresh food from the farm they patronize.  They customers get to know where their food was grown, by whom, and what methods were used.  In return, the farmer gets money at the beginning of the growing season when it is needed most and has a guaranteed market for the farm’s production.

We want to start a CSA program for the 2011 season.  We will target the Elizabethtown, Louisville, Lexington, and Danville markets and hope to get 25 families to sign up for a weekly share.  They’ll pay us before the growing season begins so that we have the capital to purchase chicks, feed, seeds, and tools.  In return, they’ll receive a cooler full of fruit, vegetables, eggs, and meat every week from early June through mid October.  Additionally, we will make one final delivery right before Thanksgiving and drop off late fall vegetables and a heritage breed Thanksgiving turkey.

Why should consumers pay up front, you ask?

The benefits for shareholders in Good Life Ranch’s CSA:

  1. You receive weekly baskets full of farm fresh produce, eggs, and meat delivered near your home.  All your food will be produced here on our farm using chemical-free methods.  Each week will be like Christmas!  One week you may get chicken, arugula, eggs, pears, beans, cilantro, and tomatoes.  The next week you may receive peaches, walnuts, blackberries, strawberries, rabbit, sweet corn, and butternut squash.  It just depends on the season and what’s ripening at that time!
  2. You know that the food you are eating was grown beyond organically – you will be ingesting no pesticides, no herbicides, no fertilizers, no antibiotics, no steroids, and no hormones in the food you receive from us.  We don’t use any of those things.
  3. You will be supporting the environment.  Many farming methods degrade the land over time, stripping it of its topsoil and fertility.  Our methods actually build soils and soil fertility rather than depleting it.  We build diversity into everything rather than relying on acres and acres of the same crop.  You will not be paying your hard-earned money to large agricultural giants dumping chemicals into watersheds or creating dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.  Instead you will be paying the salary of two hard-working beyond-organic farmers right here in Kentucky who want to take care of their land for future generations.  We want to raise our children right here, and we don’t want our children near agriculture chemicals any more than you want those chemicals in the food you feed yours.
  4. You will gain access to a farm of your own.  Good Life Ranch CSA members are welcome to come by anytime to inspect the farm, see how their food is produced, help out in the gardens or greenhouses, or just chat with the farmers!  Unlike large-scale food producers and processors, we believe in complete transparency – we’re proud of our methods and have nothing to hide and everything to show off!
  5. You will be eating “close to home.”  Most food travels thousands of miles from farm to plate and is on the road for days – sometimes weeks – before it shows up in the grocery store.  Our food is all grown on our farm here in Kentucky and was picked just for you – oftentimes just hours before delivery.  You can’t get fresher food than that!
  6. You get to remain a member for as many seasons as you like.  Once you are a shareholder at Good Life Ranch, that spot is yours until you decide otherwise.  You don’t have to reapply every year, you don’t have to worry about other people taking your spot.  We are committing to you as a long-term customer!

The benefits for Good Life Ranch in having this CSA:

  1. We get to know who’s eating our food!  This can be quite motivating for us.  Instead of producing food for “someone somewhere,” we get the privilege of knowing that this last bushel of potatoes goes to the Smith family, or this Thanksgiving turkey belongs to the Martinez family.  This provides a wonderful feeling for us to actually know the people who look forward to eating the food we grow.
  2. We receive the money for the growing season up front, rather than borrowing money against the hope of a good crop.  Most of the money we spend on our farm comes months ahead of sales.  We have to buy seeds, order poultry, and plant berry bushes months ahead of time we sell them.  This CSA will give us the money to buy the food we grow for you at the time we have to buy the supplies to grow it.  In return, our CSA members get all of the produce.  If we have a good year and grow more than normal – you get more than normal because you “invested” in us when we needed it most.
  3. We get to share the risks with the consumer.  Farming is inherently risky.  Some years produce huge surpluses, other years are lean.  Small farmers are hit especially hard by lean years.  In our CSA, we “risk” losing potential profits in a good year because our produce is already sold.  In this situation, the customer receives more produce for their dollar.  In a lean year, we share the risk with our shareholders.  They will still receive all that we produce, but shares may be reduced in volume or variety.  The benefit to the farmer is that he still gets paid for his labor.  The farmer still works hard even if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate.

If you or someone you know lives in the Elizabethtown, Louisville, Lexington, or Danville area and are interested in becoming a shareholder in Good Life Ranch, please watch our website at www.goodliferanch.com.  We are working on a new CSA page and CSA application now and they will be online soon.  The application will include prices and payment options, expected production for the 2011 year, and expectations for us as farmers and you as consumers.

We are really excited about this idea for the upcoming season, and we hope that we can generate enough interested families to put it together.

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The Greenhouse

We have a greenhouse!

One of the things I was most excited about on our new property was the prospect of finishing the greenhouse that the previous owners had started.  Being in a temperate region, we’ve definitely got some seasons here in Kentucky.  We are located on the border of USDA Zone 6 and USDA Zone 5.  For you non-plant people, that means that it gets kinda cold here in the winter and if we want to extend our growing season we’ll need a finished greenhouse.  Completing this project means that we’ll be able to start seedlings earlier in the year and transplant them outside as the temperatures warm up.  It means that we’ll be able to continue growing plants later in the fall and early winter.  It means that we may be able to produce lettuce, spinach, chard, and such all year.  It means that we can have our aquaponics set up.  And it means that our lemon and lime trees won’t die.

A little about the greenhouse, as we inherited it:
– it’s on a 21′ by 21′ concrete pad
– it has 2 sides built, but no roof or front
– it has a couple of drains and what appear to be heating elements installed in the floor
– it has water pipes in every corner
– it has an electrical box ready to be hooked up on one side.
– it has all of the panels that need to be installed, but they’re lying in the barn
– it has the roof trusses to create the roof, but they’re lying in the field

I’m not sure why the former owners stopped where they did.  They had lovely gardens and obviously could’ve made use of a greenhouse.  They bought all of the materials, made the sides, even welded the roof trusses together (but didn’t put them up).  But they did buy all of the materials and sold them to us with the property.  And they created a wonderful footprint for us to build on.

A little about the construction materials.  The sides, front, and roof of the greenhouse are made from 2″ x 4″ steel tubing.  The panels called PolyGal and are made by a company in the UK.  There is one storm door providing access to the greenhouse.

The first problems we encountered were attaching the roof trusses and constructing a front to the building.  I have not welded since Career Orientation class in high school.  I’m pretty sure Lindsey has never welded.  I’m also positive that we do not own welding equipment.  Since I didn’t want our new greenhouse to fall down and since I’m loathe to operate machinery with the capacity to melt metal when I have scant understanding of how to use said machinery, we decided that hiring a welder would be a good idea.

Around here, welders come in pairs.  And they argue with each other.  A lot.  All day.  And they attempt to get you to settle their disputes.  Yay!  But they were good welders and completed the job in one day for a few hundred dollars.  I think that’s a pretty good price for an entire greenhouse, and I’m willing to not attempt it myself when I can watch someone who knows what they’re doing do the job right.

The welders and I spent about 10 hours one day putting the roof trusses up, installing the roof beams, and putting a front on the building.  They did a great job.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t come back for free and help us put all of the panels on.  That took a long time.

Putting the plexiglass panels on the greenhouse was fairly straightforward.  It was just time consuming.  Especially the roof panels.  Holding a roof panel straight and level, drilling the holes, changing bits, and screwing in the screws is hard to do with only 2 hands with 15-plus feet in the air.  I was always tempted to use one hand to hold onto something.  Silly me.

Anyway, we got all of the roof panels on, installed all of the side panels, and then cut the pieces for the front of the building.

With the building suitable enclosed in plexiglass, we set about installing the door.  We found a storm door in the barn near the panels.  If it wasn’t originally intended for greenhouse use, then it was co-opted.  It’s on there now.  We also put in a closer so that the door can be propped open on warm days to help ventilate the building.

Next task in the greenhouse: putting in the trellis for our climbing beans and fruits and finding something to use for holding the fish we’ll get in the early spring.

Enjoy the pictures and the movie!  (Rated PG: Parental Guidance.  Mom – I was safe at all times in the following pictures)

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Lindsey’s Fall “Break”


The foliage along Dry Creek is beginning to change colors.


Lindsey has had the last 11 days off of work, so on her fall “break” she became my willing helper!  I’ve saved up 2 large tasks that needed two people to complete – cleaning out the barn and setting up the greenhouse.  The greenhouse will be covered in its entirety in a separate post once it’s finished, so stay tuned.

I must apologize for not writing as often as I should.  If excuses are necessary, then mine are:
1.  we’ve had visitors, farmsitters, and went to a wedding.
2.  it hasn’t rained in many moons, so my indoor time has been greatly diminished.
3.  it really does take a lot of work to get this place up and running, and sometimes after completing the physical work the last thing I want to do is rehash it.

The wedding was my brother’s.  It took place in Breckenridge, Colorado, which meant vacation time!  Lindsey’s parents were kind enough to farmsit for us while we went to the wedding.  They took care of all of the animals and gardens while Lindsey and I celebrated with Billy and Keri.  Breckenridge was beautiful in the fall and the weekend was almost perfect.  The wedding was perfect.  The Razorbacks blew the lead they had over then-#1 Alabama, and that was the only perfect weekend foil.


Lindsey and I keep Billy's dog Maddie company during the rehearsal.



Ten Mile Station, site of Billy and Keri's wedding. Isn't it gorgeous?



Aspens in fall colors provide a backdrop for the wedding.


Back in Kentucky the trees are changing colors, too.  Some of them, like the maples and pears, are changing colors because it’s October and that’s what they do.  Others of them, like the cypresses and pines, are changing colors because it’s been so dry here that they are starting to yellow and brown.  Needles are drying up and falling off.  Our brainstormed U-Pick-‘Em Christmas tree idea is starting to lose inventory before December even gets close.  The pasture crackles underfoot.  We need rain badly.  Hopefully it will rain before winter.

If we do get winter storms, we now have a place that can shelter the animals!  Lindsey and I spent 3 days clearing out the barn from top to bottom, eliminating many years of junk, debris, and manure.  Now we’ve got some stalls for the goats in case we get wet windy weather in the winter.

I don’t know exactly when our barn was built.  The previous owner of the property said the 1920’s or 1930’s.  I know that it was standing for sure in 1947, because there is a whole family’s worth of initials from the original family to have owned the property carved into one of the planks and it’s dated “1947.”  My father-in-law’s a detective.  I listen and learn.  The barn is 2 stories with a drive-through lane through the middle of the ground floor.  On one side of the drive through lane are 2 stalls, a large storage area, and a staircase to the hayloft on the second floor.  On the other side of the driving lane is a single stall and an even larger storage area.  On that side there is also a small storage area above the stall.

We found all manner of stuff in the barn.  Greenhouse panels (yay!).  Ancient corn cobs and tobacco leaves (expected).  Large piles of rusty barbed wire (boo!).  Manure, hay, tobacco plates, tobacco sticks, trellises, lumber, scrap metal, an antenna, plastic mulching sheets, planters, draft horse collars.  We learned that baling twine never disintegrates and that it’s best not to think about how old that cloud of manure dust may be.

In any case, most of the barn is in good shape.  Two of the three stalls are usable right now if we needed to put the goats in there during a severe winter storm.  The other stall needs a new floor and a new floor beam.  That’s a project for another day, but other than that and some rotted floorboards in the hayloft the barn is in surprisingly good structural shape.

Almost everything we found got saved or recycled.  We did dump one load at the landfill, unfortunately, but that couldn’t be helped.  One load of trash that we couldn’t think of a use of from at least 64 years of inhabitation isn’t too terrible, I guess.  We paid $13 to dump the load of trash and got $37.50 for the aluminum and scrap metal, so all in all we have a clean barn and enough money to see a couple of movies.  That’s right, big city friends, I said a couple of movies.  For both of us.  Life’s cheaper at the Green River Theater.

Enjoy a few pictures of the barn cleanin’:


Lindsey sweeps out one of the barn's stalls.



No, I'm not robbing the barn. The hankerchief was necessary to keep manure dust out of my mouth.



Shoveling ancient hay and manure from the barn's hayloft.



The floor in the barn loft could use some work, but at least it's visible now. It was buried under corn cobs and tobacco leaves.



Any guesses as to what these might be? The one on the left is ceramic. The right one is metallic.



One of the stalls has a floor that has seen better days. A future project...



The big pile of junk in the barn. Most will be re-used in Lifestyles Lane, some had to go to the scrap metal place. A little went to the dump, unfortunately.



The turkeys enjoyed perching on all of the new stuff coming out of the barn and generally getting in the way as much as possible.


The turkeys enjoyed sitting on all of the new perches we were providing them as we cleaned the barn.  Being old heritage breeds, they are quite good flyers and are capable of roosting in the trees and on top of the barn when they want to.  Their favorite nighttime roost is the tailgate of the trailer, but I make them go in the poultry house.  We have enough coyotes around here at night without putting sleepy turkey on their menu.


Everything's a turkey perch. Fence. Trash. Front porch swing. Truck. Tree. Cold frame. Dog. Chicken tractor....


The turkeys are getting pretty big now.  Big enough that they’ve decided that they can chase Scooter, our 45-lb dog, around with impunity.  One hen in particular seems to enjoy tormenting him, but the whole flock will join her.  He will mostly stand his ground with the one hen, but as soon as multiple turkeys enter the fray, he takes off running and the turkeys take off chasing him.  Bailey, our older dog who is roughly twice Scooter’s size, occasionally comes to his rescue and chases the turkeys away.  Mostly she seems to enjoy watching the turkeys do to Scooter what Scooter does to her most of the time.  I’m not sure what brought this on.  Scootie’s new favorite thing is finding the turkey feathers on the ground and running all over the place with the feathers in his mouth.  Maybe the turkeys think he’s stealing them.


Scooter's latest fascination is turkey feathers. He loves to collect them and run all over the place with them in his mouth.


Besides the barn, our farm is starting to appear more legit.  We’ve made some money lately selling rabbits.  The goats are rotating through the pasture.  The junk, debris, and construction materials have been removed from the fields.  Neighbor David has harvested his corn from the fields he leases from us.  In exchange he’s cut and baled the hay in the front pasture.  All in all, the farm is looking much better than when we arrived in June.


Neighbor David's hay bales decorate the front field.


In other news on the bird front, the Cornish X White Rock broilers have a date with the processor on Tuesday morning.  This time, in an effort to be as local as possible, we are using the processor 8 minutes away from us for the first time.  We’ll see how he does!  I can tell you that we won’t be having any underweight chickens this time.  Check out these fatties in the video below:

The guineas have also been growing, although we’re just using them for tick management around the house and barn area.  Some of them have fallen prey to a couple of critters, but the remaining ones sure do a great job clearing out ticks and grasshoppers!

Speaking of predators, the coyotes have been coming close at night.  The other night they were right outside the goats’ paddock.  I could hear the coyotes making a racket and I could hear our livestock guardian dog Maggie growling.  Usually she barks a lot at night as she patrols, but this was deep-throated, threatening growling.  The coyotes eventually took off, so Maggie did her job in the first challenge of her authority.  Way to go, girl!


Maggie's mug. This is what coyotes see when they sniff around the goats at night.



Lindsey feeds Maggie while Bailey investigates the possibility of pilfering her food.



Maggie's goat herd is rotating through the pastures, hopefully focusing on the many weeds that choke out our grasses and legumes at the moment.


Our last project over Lindsey’s “break” has been building the greenhouse.  We’ve had our first frosts already, so we need to get our sensitive San Antonio plants inside the shelter of the greenhouse soon.  It should be ready inside of a week now, and we’ll have a post dedicated to it once the structure is completed.


We had our first hard frost on October 2nd. The goats didn't seem to mind, but the basil sure did.


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Money, Math, and Movie

Part of the money from our very first sale. Lindsey says we should hang it upside down like Chinese restaurants do so it won't run out of luck.

We made our first two sales this weekend!  On Friday we sold one of our “pet type” lop rabbits to a couple who wanted a bunny for their grandson.  They came by the house around 7 pm and picked out a nice black and white lop rabbit.  We boxed it up and off it went to live with a (hopefully) loving child.  The $5 bill above is part of the $15 from the sale of that rabbit.

Then on Saturday we made another sale.  On Monday a customer from Campbellsville called and placed an order for 2 of our meat rabbits.  She wanted to pick then up on Saturday, which is good because after processing they need to chill (literally) for a couple of days to age the meat.  Since we’ve only raised these rabbits for half of the normally required grow-out period of 12 weeks I did the math and figured out that $2 per pound of liveweight would give us a profit and provide us the hourly wage we’re looking for from our farm endeavors.  Because these rabbits dressed out at 60%, that means that we’d be charging $3.33 per pound dressed.  I think that our price per pound will go up on those rabbits that we raise from birth, however.

The customer bought the live rabbits from us, and I dressed them as a courtesy for them.  So on Wednesday I had to process rabbits for the first time.  The processing went smoothly and the rabbits did not suffer, but it’s still a little graphic for me to describe in writing.  If you want to know how to process rabbits there are lots of good books, internet articles, and videos that you can google.  After processing the rabbits and composting the remains, the meat went into the fridge to age until Saturday when the customer picked it up.  I felt like an actual businessman writing up receipts.

Receipt from the first food we sold!

Now here’s where more patience comes in…  I figure that I work around 11 hours a day for 6 days of the week and for 2 hours on the other.  That means I work roughly 68 hours per week.  We’ve been here 14 weeks so far.  That means I’ve worked about 952 hours so far.  I’ve made $39.  That means my hourly rate is…….  4¢.  And that’s without subtracting the expenses yet.  Ouch.

This week has been really busy, as usual.  I’ve chopped and cleared out our bamboo patch to a more reasonable and aesthetically pleasing arrangement.  Tomorrow I’m going to cut all the leaves off of the chopped bamboo to make poles to dry and use for the garden and building Lifestyles Lane structures.  The leaves will go into the gardens to compost for spring plantings.

Fall plantings are in place and finally sprouting after a small rain this week.  We’ve had several weeks without precipitation, so it took a little while for the seeds to sprout.  The plantings include spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, peas, carrots, onions, and parsnips and are all growing now.  Hopefully they can evade the feet of the turkeys who come by every day to debug the garden.  They’ve really dented the squash bug populations.  The butternut squashes are now curing in the office for a couple of weeks until they go into the basement for storage.  Then into pies and soups!

The turkeys also do lots of other fun things.  See below.

They are doing well and their growth rate really seems to be taking off now.  They are also getting bolder and will explore further from the poultry house every day.  They will go all the way up the hill behind the house and halfway out into the front pasture, so their range is now about a half mile from their “base.”  Now we just have to see what we’re going to do with them.  One has been committed to fill an order (thanks Aunt Sheila!) and one will be our Thanksgiving supper.  We have 1 male and 2 females of the Chocolates and Black Spanish turkeys, so if no one else places any orders we may save them until spring and try to breed our own turkeys for next year instead of ordering them.

On to the caprine kingdom!  The goats seem to be doing great!  They are making short work of the  brush behind the house that was too thick to chop down or bush hog.  The goats have changed that.  Each section that they go through is eaten down to the point that I can now go through there with the machete and clear the rest of it out.  They really enjoy the brush and eat it preferentially over the grass they have available.

Maggie, the goats’ livestock guardian dog, is doing a great job watching over them.  She does take a little getting used to, however, because she watches over them at night by announcing her presence with authority.  That means a lot of barking.  🙂  Unlike the other livestock guardian dogs we’ve been around, Maggie really enjoys human attention.  I went into the goat paddock the other day to fix the shelter that the goats had broken a part of and I could barely accomplish any of the repairs because Maggie kept sticking her basketball-sized noggin in between my arm and my body wanting to be petted.  She really is sweet.

So it’s Sunday.  The dogs are sleeping on the couch, the goats are playing king of the mountain on the gravel pile, the turkeys are catching grasshoppers, and the chicks are cheeping.  Good day!

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The Good Life Goat Herd

"The Herd"

Today I went to see about some Kiko goats to add to the two Boers that I got from my mother- and father-in-law and Lindsey for my birthday.  Both the Boers and the Kikos are supposed to be excellent meat goats.  The Boer breed was developed in the drier climate of southern Africa while the Kikos were developed in the wetter climate of New Zealand.  I’ve read some things that suggest that the Boers do better in the US when they’re west of I-35 and the Kikos do better east of I-35 because of the climate.  West of I-35 is more similar to South Africa while east of I-35 the climate is more similar to New Zealand.  I like characteristics of both breeds and being a scientist at heart, I want to experiment and see which breed is going to work better for us here in central Kentucky.  We’ll determine which breed works best by breeding these does and looking at the weights of the kids they wean, by seeing how often we have to worm them, and by observing how their hooves grow and how often we have to trim them.

As you can probably tell from the intro picture, I did indeed buy some goats today!  Marty and Janet at Red Brush Farms were extremely nice and helpful.  I encourage anyone interested in Kiko goats to give them a call.  They had high quality goats, were very knowledgeable, and incredibly generous.  I went to their place with a very limited amount of money to spend and came home with more than I ever thought I would due to their kindness and desire to see their animals cared for well.

In the picture above, you can see Roja and Nadine (the Boers) on the left and the Kikos on the right.  In between the two groups is Maggie, the Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog that Marty and Janet sent along with the goats.  Here are some closer shots of the individuals and their names (some of which we kept or used the name of the dam of the goat we bought):


Maggie is 7 years old and an experienced LGD.  She’s already adopted our two Boer kids into “her” herd and is keeping a watchful eye on everything in her new surroundings.  She’s been introduced to Bailey and Scooter through the fence, and seems to be fine with them so far.  We’ll be careful with the introductions, though.  Maggie’s much bigger than Bailey and little Scootie.  I’ve been watching the herd out in the pasture, and Maggie will snooze while the goats graze around her.  If they move off more than about 20 feet from her she gets up and goes over to lie down closer to them.  Everything I’ve read suggests that the LGDs do this during the day and are very active patrollers at night.  That’s good, because this is what we hear at night: click me! So Maggie’s job is to keep those coyotes away.

"Miss Priss"

This is Miss Priss.  She’s 4 years old and 100% New Zealand Kiko.  According to Marty and Janet she had a single kid her first pregnancy and 3 sets of twins.  She’s also had good hooves and very good scores on parasite tests.  She’s now the matriarch of our herd.


This is Miss Fancy’s #351, which we’ve shortened to Fancy for brevity.  She’s a 100% AP Kiko yearling and her dam has been a consistent top performer at Red Brush Farms.  She seems very alert and watchful.


This is Ebony’s #76, or now “Ebony.”  She’s a striking solid black doeling who is the offspring of one of Red Brush Farm’s foundation does.  Marty and Janet said that she weighed 51.9 pounds at 90 days old, so good growth rate is hopefully in those genes.  Ebony is initially the friendliest of the new Kikos, or at least the most curious.  She’s the only one who approaches me when I’ve gone in to check on them – which I’ve probably done too much.  I have a habit of just going in with the goats and sitting for a while so they get used to me.  All 6 goats are pretty flighty right now.


Finally, after Ebony we have Ivory.  Very imaginative, we know.  She is a 100% New Zealand Kiko and like Ebony had a 90-day weight of 51.9 pounds.  Both Ebony and Ivory were twins (but not to each other).  She’s got a piece of wood taped to her horns right now because she kept getting them caught in the fence at Red Brush Farm.  Hopefully we can cure of that and get the wood off of her so she doesn’t look quite so ridiculous.  🙂

Livestock crate for the truck.

Marty and Janet were so kind to me!  They also threw in this livestock carrier for the back of the pickup in the deal.  It’s much nicer and more functional than the dog crates I’ve been using to haul everything around and will come in useful over and over again for us.  The carrier is chain link with a gate on one end.

Very good day all in all after a rough start – we lost 7 broiler chicks in one of the tractors this morning.  We got over 5″ of rain last night (our rain gauge only goes up to 5″, so it could’ve been more), and in one chicken tractor the chicks slept out in the open rather than going underneath the tarp portion.  When I went out this morning there were 10 chicks that were apparently dead, but 3 of them were breathing a little bit and after being dried off with a towel and placed back into the brooder under the heat lamp they recovered and seem to be doing fine right now.

All the other animals weathered the storm well.  The turkeys do seem perturbed about the ankle-deep water in places, though.

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Fall Approacheth

My family poses on (and around, for Grandma Bailey) one of the hay bales in the ridgetop field.

Fall is coming very quickly, especially for those of us who are used to South Texas.  In South Texas fall is more of an idea than an actual season.  No trees change color, there’s no falling leaves, and we really never have a frost until maybe January, if then.  Here it’s Labor Day and we haven’t used the air conditioner in about a week, the smaller shrubs and trees are starting to change colors faintly, and I can definitely see my breath in the mornings.  In our rural neighborhood the second or third haying is being finished, the corn mazes are springing up, and pumpkins are starting to appear at roadside stands.  Alas, the squash bugs got our pumpkins.

This weekend we took advantage of the wonderful 70-degree weather and went hiking around our property.  We always discover new things and enjoy passing by some of our favorite spots, such as the cave and the Crazy Plant.

Scooter "El Conquistador Timido" examines the entrance to the small cave we've found. Neither Scooter nor Lindsey will go in it.

Lindsey poses next to the Crazy Plant. This unidentified monster has the biggest leaves I've ever seen on a plant this far north of the tropics. Anyone care to ID it?

Bailey and Scooter love to go on the hikes.  Sometimes the turkeys try to follow, too, but they get tired quickly.  🙂  They just like to follow me wherever I go.  It’ll make the week before Thanksgiving logistically simpler if they keep doing that.  Today I was sitting in the porch swing shelling some of the black beans we’ve grown and the turkeys decided to come sit on the porch with me.  A couple of them even decided to sit on the other bench.  They’re funny, I tell you.

The turkeys hold court on the front porch while I was shelling black beans. The turkeys are always doing something amusing.

We also got the fall veggies planted today after a trip to Louisville to buy a suit for my brother’s wedding.  Hopefully we can just cover them during the tricky cold nights and have a good harvest through late November.  Today Swiss chard, spinach, parsnips, carrots, lettuces (Romaine and Simpson’s), snap peas, and onions went into the ground.  I’m trying an experiment, so I just basically swept the squash vine remains into a corner to compost in place and then prepped the soil before I mixed all the seeds together and scattered them.  I’ve seen some permaculture videos about doing that and it seems to work out well for them, so I thought I’d try it.  I’ll keep you posted on how it works out.

As noted yesterday, the final batch of broilers for the year was put out on pasture this weekend and they are doing well.  I just wanted to report on the first couple of tractor moves because I’ve never seen anyone else discuss this point before.  In any case, there is a definite learning curve for the little chicks the first couple of times the tractor is moved in the morning.  I can understand.  If my house started to move one length over, I would be freaked out too.  The little chicks don’t know what to do the first few times this happens.  They learn to walk along with it pretty quickly, but the first couple of moves always happen in 1″ or 2″ increments with multiple stops when loud squawking alerts me to the fact that some chick has a leg (or wing, or neck) stuck underneath the tractor somewhere.  Right now we’re still in the learning curve for this batch – today moving each tractor took 4 or 5 minutes.  Usually it’s less than 10 seconds.  The White Rocks from last batch learned quickly, though, and I’m confident that these chicks are bright enough to figure this out soon.

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Sunday on the Ranch

The garden has exploded with yellow late-summer flowers.

One of the best things about working outside on the ranch every day is getting to see things change.  New plants, birds, and fish show up all the time.  For instance, the flower garden has exploded with coreopsis.  Yellow everywhere!  This garden has progressed from lilies to hollyhocks to coreopsis in the 2.5 months since we’ve been here.  I’m looking forward to seeing the fall colors change on the trees in another few weeks and the reemergence of flowers and leaves in the spring.  Fall is coming – 45 degrees here last night.

Despite the falling temps, we decided to go ahead and put the 2-week-old chicks out in their chicken scooters yesterday.  It’s been in the low 90’s here for the last few weeks, but yesterday was a beautiful 75-degree day and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get the birds out on grass.  Lindsey and I loaded up each scooter with 25 chicks and watched the Buff Orpingtons run around exploring their new environment.  Then we watched the Cornish X chicks lay down next to the feeder as soon as we put them in the scooter, showing little interest in the grass or bugs all around them.  They definitely hung out in the shade underneath the tarp section of their scooter all day.  Their strategy of laying down with their head in the feeder definitely produces a heavier bird, however.  We weighed a couple of birds as we put them into the tractor – Buff Orpington chick 7 ounces, Cornish X chick 17 ounces after 2 weeks.  Damn!

The little Buff Orpington chicks explore their new digs inside the scooter.

The Buff Orps are always moving!

The Cornish X chicks prefer to sit in the shade as close to the feeder as possible rather than explore their surroundings.

The goats have names now.  As I mentioned before these are the first does in our as-of-now-rather-small breeding herd, so they are safe to name because we won’t be eating these.  We rather unimaginatively named the red doe Roja.  Maybe we miss speaking the little bit of Spanish we used to in San Antonio.  My brother Scott suggested Nadine for the little white doeling after Nadine Gordimer (the South African Nobel laureate author) since Boer goats were originally developed in South Africa.  Nadine also wrote about social justice, which is one of the reasons we’re doing this whole endeavor in the first place.

The goats are getting more used to us.  Roja is very inquisitive.  She always comes over to investigate whatever we’re doing when we’re in the paddock with them.  She stops short of allowing us to touch her yet, but she’s getting there.  Nadine, being smaller, is much more cautious.  She is beginning to approach us, but always keeps Roja’s body between her and us.  She is also much quicker to run away if we moved suddenly or do something really scary like stand up.  They both spend a lot of time grazing and browsing, which is ultimately how we want them to get all of their nutrients.  They had access to both grass and pelleted feed at Triple Holler, so right now I’m offering them pellets every other day in an effort to wean them onto grass and browse only without forcing them to go cold turkey.  They seem to be adjusting well, but they really like the pellets.

The goats are very inquisitive and are coming closer and closer every day. Soon we'll be able to play and romp!

They have also discovered the mineral block (like goat vitamins) in their area and seem to like it.  Roja especially goes to town on it.  Nadine nibbles it a little every now and then.  They have also figured out how much fun it is to climb on top of the dog crates I haven’t taken out of the yard yet.

Roja has discovered the mineral block.

Roja likes to take in the view from the top of the dog crate.

Roja munches on the grass in the backyard "paddock."

I also knocked together a very rudimentary shelter for the goats – just something to allow them to get out of the sun or rain if they wanted to.  I used old 2x6s vertically on the bottom for skids and cross-braced them with other scrap wood.  Then I drilled holes in the 2x6s and put short sections of rebar sticking up from the holes.  I then bent PVC pipes from one side to the other to form a hoop structure.  Then zip ties connect the tarp to the PVC frame.  Voìla!  Lightweight portable goat shelter!

The new portable goat shelter we whipped up with skids, rebar, PVC, and a tarp. Nothing new was bought except the tarp.

Other animals are finally proving useful as well.  The turkeys have learned that there are bugs in the gardens and now patrol the 2 raised beds and the tomato patch every few hours looking for tasty morsels.  While they’re up around the house they also like to perch on the trailer, the pickup’s tailgate, and the swing on the porch.  It’s pretty funny.  I’ll try to post a picture of them on the swing if I can catch them doing it.

The turkeys have finally discovered that there are usually bugs and slugs in the garden. If only they'd found 'em before the squash bug epidemic!

This week our neighbor David and I (25% him and 75% me by time, 75% him and 25% me by amount of grass cut) got the front pasture mowed.  David has the large advantage of tractor ownership.  I have the disadvantage of walk-behind bush hog ownership.  Hence the time/productivity disparity.  Oh well.  At least I don’t have to fill out an embarrassing TPS report about it.  The grass started out 3 feet high all over the place and over my head in others.  It’s now a pretty uniform 3 inches and round bales of hay dot the pasture.

The tall grass in the front pasture before David and I cut it. The grass was 3 feet high everywhere and 6 feet high in places.

The pasture looks much better now! David also ended up with 45-50 bales of hay for his dairy as well.

After cutting, David baled the hay in the front field.

The huge plus of this cutting is that the front of the property now looks as if someone lives here!  Additionally, the grass is now free of competition from taller woody weeds and should be able to put on a burst of growth here in the fall growing season.  The bad news is that now I can see how little humus and organic matter we have in the soil.  The soil is just bare between the crowns of grass plants.  We’ve got a lot of soil building to do here!  Prescription:  rotational grazing with ruminant animals.  Before we can do that, I’ve gotta put in a fence.  Anyone want to come help?  🙂

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The pair of goats grazes and explores the backyard.

For my birthday Lindsey and her parents Ronnie and Jake surprised me by telling me they were going to get me goats!   I had a fun night and day looking around, making calls, and checking the internet seeing the goats available in our area.  These goats are the first ruminants we’ve got on the farm, and we look forward to them helping us reduce the weeds and brush that have been encroaching on the pastures and garden areas.

We decided to look at Boer goats since they are the most commonly available in our area.  I looked around and asked around and most things indicated that some of the best Boer goats in our area come from Triple Holler Farm.  We checked them out and ended up buying two of their young doelings.  Lisa and Dan really love their goats and they were so patient with our questions (we had a lot of them since these are our first goats).  They patiently and sometimes repeatedly answered our questions and told us about their goat operation.  I learned that the goat block – a mineral and protein supplement that most animals out on pasture need – I had bought was a brand that their goats usually didn’t like.  They told me the type they used and where to get, even tearing off a label from one so that we would wind up with the right product.  Lisa and Dan didn’t even laugh too hard about the dog crates we are using to move animals around in until we can afford something different.  At least the goats fit easily in them, although I think Lindsey wanted the little one to ride home on her lap.

Please allow me to introduce you to the goats…..

The older red boer doe.

Posin'. Aren't I cute?

The 2 pictures above are the older doe.  She was born 12.10.09 (hey hey Scott!), so she’s about 9 months old right now.  I would guess that she weighs about 65-75 pounds right now, but that is strictly guessing.  As you can see, she’s almost entirely red.  She has a little white patch on the left side of her belly that you can’t see in these pictures.

The younger spotted-headed doe.

Check out those ears!

And this is the young doeling.  She’s less than 3 months old, being born on 6.12.10.  She’s roughly half the size of the older doe, so probably 30-35 pounds at the most.  Lindsey’s face just lit up when she saw this one playing and prancing around.  She looks a little more like a “traditional” Boer goat except that her head isn’t as solid-colored as most.

Both of these goats are full-blooded Boers, and we got registration papers with them as well so that we can breed and sell registered goats in the future if we want to.  The two we got are actually half-sisters, as they have the same sire.  The older one has been doing a good job of playing big sister since they got here.  She stands guard  anytime something new makes a noise or moves, and the little one runs over to her whenever she needs reassurance.  It’s pretty cute.

Right now they are in our backyard.  We did that because it has a secure fence and is close to us and the house.  We thought that would be best until the goats get settled in and they tame down around us a little so that moving them will be less stressful on everyone with less risk of “escape.”  Once we get them to where they will follow us we’ll start rotating them around using portable electric fencing.

We had over a hundred step-in posts that the previous owners left.  I bought some turbowire and a Gallagher solar fence energizer yesterday and set up a small paddock behind the yard for the goats to move into once they’ve reached their first goal of following us.  There’s lots of browse in that area that we’d like the goats’ help in clearing out.  Then we can rotate them through other areas as well, keeping the brush down, keeping the goats fed, and keeping them moving  away from excrement and parasites.

Thank you Lindsey, Jake, and Ronnie!

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The Cluck Stops Here

The sign greeting customers at SS Enterprises.

Today was our first poultry processing day.  #1 lesson learned?  Eight weeks is not enough time to grow birds out unless you’re raising Cornish X.

Our first processing day was a emotional minefield – excitement, sadness, pride, regret, sorrow, and gratitude all flowed through my system from 6 am while Lindsey and I were loading the broilers until 8 pm when we sat down to our chicken dinner.

Eventually we want to keep the processing on farm.  We believe that’s more sustainable and better for the birds.  Heifer Project International has even built a mobile processing unit that they sold to a university in Kentucky for $1 that we can use if we take a certification course and build the platform and hookups for it.  That may be in our future.  But for now, we’re taking our birds to the processor.

We called and got an appointment at SS Enterprises, a certified organic processor geared towards the small producer.  Our methods are definitely “beyond organic” even though we don’t care about label, so having a processor that cares about the organic process makes a difference to us.

Even though we are not labeled organic by the government, we are definitely Beyond Organic and it's nice to have a processor who believes in organics. And, yes, Kentucky's Secretary of Agriculture is named Richie Farmer.

There are only 2 USDA-approved poultry processors in the state of Kentucky.  SS is in Bowling Green almost 2 hours away.  The other happens to be 8 miles from our farm!  This time we used SS in Bowling Green because I didn’t find out about the other processor until after I’d made the appointment.  We’ll use the other processor for the next batch and compare the service and results to see which one we want to use, but I can tell you the 8-miles-away factor will be tough to beat.

I think the people at SS Enterprises share some of my political views.

However, the owners of SS Enterprises gave it a good shot.  They were extremely friendly and easy to work with.  I felt welcomed and at home from the first minute I drove up.  They introduced me to their staff and the USDA inspector, treated my birds with compassion and care, and walked me through the whole procedure of processing.  And they didn’t laugh at our small birds.

That’s right.  SMALL birds.

Other farmers who are pasturing poultry are mostly doing Cornish X broilers.  As I’ve blogged before, Cornish X have an extremely fast growth rate but that growth rate comes with trade-offs in terms of health issues and how well the birds are able to utilize fresh pasture.  We used White Rocks this time (which are the unlisted part of the Cornish X – it should read Cornish X White Rock).  The Salatins and others finish Cornish X at 6 weeks old and about 4 pounds in weight.  Nature’s Harmony finishes Naked Necks at 12 weeks, so I figured that White Rocks would be somewhere in between and probably closer to the Cornish X because of their role in the cross.   Hence we shot for 8 weeks for this first batch.

I thought wrong.  Our biggest birds dressed out at 1.5 pounds and the batch averaged 1.25 pounds.  Essentially, we have quail.

Lesson:  Right now we can’t hit an 8 week target date.
Adjustment:  Experiment with the cost of raising birds to 12 weeks and with a group of Cornish X.

Both experiments are going on with our second and third batches.  We’ve got a group of 50 Buff Orpingtons that we’ll raise out to 12 weeks and a group of Cornish X (they were the “free bonus chicks”) that we’ll raise to 6-8 weeks.  That should give us some real data from our land and our conditions to evaluate and allow us to make a good decision.  We would like to raise heritage breeds, but they’ve got to be profitable to be sustainable.  Birds that take 12 weeks to get to 4 pounds cost roughly twice as much to produce as birds that reach 4 pounds in 6 weeks.  So to be profitable with heritage birds we’ve got to have customers who are willing to pay more in exchange for the better taste of the older birds.  Any takers?

So, back off of the tangent, at the end of the day we did have 22 chickens cleanly processed and packaged.

Pastured chicken arranged in the freezer for storage.

These are too small to really sell profitably, so they will be for the two of us plus any family or guests who visit.  My father-in-law put it best, “At least you get to eat your mistakes as you learn from them.”  And I can now vouch – pastured poultry tastes WAY better than supermarket chicken.

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Scavenger Hunt in the Tall Grass

Today I started going through the items that have been hidden in the unmowed reaches of jungle since we arrived 2 months ago.  We saw some of these things when we went to the property in December, but the grass is much lower in winter and I think there are some items that the previous owner either didn’t show us or that have been added to the piles since then.

Here’s some of what I found:

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Additionally, I uncovered a 6-foot by 8-foot rectangular prism made of steel tubing, a 90″ long and 44″ diameter metal culvert, more cinder blocks to add to the 100’s that we already knew about, around 35 steel T-posts in varying lengths, 104 3-foot step-in posts for electric fencing, metal grating, sawed-up tree trunks, massive amounts of steel tubing, and a small mountain of gravel.

I’m only about halfway done with all of the piles of stuff, so I’ll let you know if I uncover anything else interesting.

Readers, I need help.  I was able to move the culvert, gate with logs attached, greenhouse roofing, and other large items by myself with the truck, but I’m at a loss trying to think of a way to move a 30-foot telephone pole.  Any suggestions?  My resources include a truck with an 8-foot bed, a 12-foot trailer, and (for the weekend anyway) Lindsey.

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