The End of Winter in Photos

Life has held me captive for the last month. It hasn’t been easy, but I think we are getting back on track to normalcy. In that spirit, I walked around the farm with my big, happy camera, snapping photos here and there of what March has brought us. Spring will soon be here… phew!

Our garden idea has changed somewhat as well. Since we cannot easily fence in the back acre-ish for animals because of the shallow, solid bedrock, we are going to add a large pen out front where we originally planned to put the garden. There is only one hügelkultur in the front, so I won’t have to cry too much. We will make more hügelkultur mounds in the back as our garden and then start some fruit trees in massive pots (wine barrels?) until we can figure out how well that works out.

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Lessons From A Year On My Own Farm

You know how all the farming magazines, homesteading books, and old-timers say that you need a whole year on new land to observe before starting up farm projects? They give you all this blah-blah-blah about watching how the land reacts to each season and taking time to build up livestock.

Well, it turns out they’re right. It just happens to be one of those lessons you have to get through yourself. It’s not as if I didn’t believe this seemingly sound advice. When you finally have a place to call your own, somewhere you can do as you please without “the man” comin’ down on you, it’s exciting! You want to get everything going just the way you like in a hurry because –for some reason– the whole house and farm should be as picturesque as a Better Homes & Gardens cover shot within the first few months of living there.

I must admit, I had those expectations even though everyone kept telling me to take it slow, things at a new house took time and this was our first year. I’m nearly thirty and yet good advice went in one ear and out the other.

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May 2014

In this last year we have gotten quite a bit done. I didn’t realize how much we have change the property or ourselves until I looked a photos I took those first few weeks we moved in. We have turned a shed into a rabbitry, painted every surface in the house (with the exception of the cut-in around the ceiling fans?!), we brought home our first dairy goats and built a milking stanchion from pictures of others, Trevor’s parents helped us get two large areas fenced in, with my family’s help we installed one big hügelkultur, we sold some bucklings and bought two more dairy goats, got rid of lazy chickens and brought in new chickies, had great success with cabbage and heritage breed turkeys, added a pair of Viking sheep, made billions of delicious pretzel, and disposed of multiple truck loads of creepy-gross carpet. Oh, and the front door is an awesome egg yolk orange.

So while it didn’t seem like much progress was being made during the year, I can look back and see that we did –in fact– get a whole lot done on our new farm. That even includes the whole month of a “screw the drought and the world” attitude I had during the summer while I got absolutely no blogging done.

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May 2014

Well, now our first year is almost up. (I can say that because our mortgage is paid through the month of February and we moved in on March 8th of last year.) Close enough I’d say. After a year of home ownership my best advice to others looking down the same path is: to spend a whole year taking it slow.

Begin Again

I am working on a mental switch from seeing the farm as needing to “start over” to thinking of it as “beginning again”. This is really difficult for me because for our first three years, everything seemed to flourish. Rabbits did fairly well –that is, I had lots of litters– and the chickens produced lots of eggs. We had access to a fully fenced garden to do with whatever we pleased. Everything was unicorns and rainbows.

In the last year since we moved, I have tried to fit these same expectations into a completely untamed and empty system. A lack of a system, really. It hasn’t worked for obvious reasons: there is no fencing to just go out and plant things; there is different weather, almost no shade, and very few sheltered areas to work with; we have more space; and most importantly, there are more wild predators. Our previous location afforded us a sense of protection that we do not have here. Here, everything is open and it is up to us to figure out how to create shelter, protection, and working systems.

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So my New Year Resolution is multi-faceted yet all going towards the same goal:
Forgiveness
I must forgive myself for losing animals to heat and under-fortified structures. I need to forgive myself in order to move forward with my best work. I have learned some hard lessons this year and now I need to look to the future.

Renewal
There are many stuck gears within the daily operation of the farm. Systems that worked before are no longer relevant here. The rabbits need a habitat more adapted to the new land, the garden needs a push shove to get going, and the chickens need to be completely redone. The chickens need a new, bigger coop. The farm needs chicken breeds are excellent layers, can withstand our weather extremes, and can forage well. I am going to try Dominiques (the original Gold Rush chicken… we live in an 1850’s Gold Rush town) and Americaunas (for their adaptability and long laying cycles). Trevor also hopes to be able to catch a few honeybee swarms this spring (free bees rather than $100+ per starter nuc).

Value Diversity
I cannot afford to put all my eggs in one basket anymore, both literally and figuratively. I am going to do my best to have at least two versions of everything. That way if one method fails, I have a back up. Chickens, turkeys, and goats will all include multiple breeds to secure better chances of survival. The rabbits are already from 3 different breeding lines, so I really just need to build them back up.

Recycle
In order to save a butt-load of money, we need to find and use materials that other people think are useless. That being said, I don’t want my house to look like a junk yard. It is kind of hard to find that happy middle ground. So far I have a bunch of 1920’s windows and glass doors that need to be turned into a greenhouse and I have all of the “outputs” from the animals that can be used in the garden and compost. Now I need to find chicken wire, “ruined” or wet straw, used/recycled lumber, tall bamboo or PVC for garden stakes, a large pool for aquaponics, and some dead Christmas trees for the garden beds.

Mothers

Sometimes you just need to vent all your farm frustrations to your mother. Okay, so not everyone has a farm to vent about. Once in awhile I need an outside perspective that has close ties to everyone on the farm. While it is helpful to have recommendations and advice pouring in over the internet, it doesn’t seem quite as personal as getting thoughts and ideas from someone who knows all the rabbits, has pet all the goats (and even transported some for me), has fed the chickens and watched them grow from chicks, and has tasted all that sticky honey first hand. I did, however, tell her about all the recommendations you sent in.

After an hour on the phone with my mother, I had a mental list of what to do next with all the creatures and dirt out here. So today I am taking my Mom Advice and a couple books and getting the wheels in motion for some projects that can be done now, for free, and may even be easier with very little garden to manage in the upcoming winter months.
homework

Mom said:
1) “Don’t worry about the rabbits. It has always been frustrating breeding them. Don’t bother trying to find a new breed to work with, what you have now is exactly what you wanted. And maybe this is why there are so few French Angora breeders out there… they aren’t incredibly easy to raise. Instead, keep breeding everyone until you get what you need. Eventually it will work out.”

2) “Just eat all the chickens and start over. Or sell them and start over. You have to remember that you raised them in Sonora, then moved 52 miles away, and expected them to keep laying like they had before. Maybe they aren’t cut out to live in Mountain Ranch wind and heat and freezing temperatures. They were raised in a whole other environment. Stick them all in the freezer and research hardy breeds to get started next.”
Mom really liked the “Viking” Swedish Hens idea, but I worry about how they would do in the summer heat. Mom gave a thumbs down to the Jersey Giants because they are not mega-egg-producers. Personally, I think she rejected the idea because they are oddly large and she hates weird looking chickens; case and point: my Naked Neck Turkens.

3) “I liked the Carnelian honey bees you had. Get more of those, keep two hives at my house, and keep two hives at yours. The bees always did real well here in Sonora. And it’s not like Trevor has to groom them every day or anything. When he is in Sonora visiting, he can check in on the Sonora hives and then he can harvest honey once a year like he always does. That way, if the Mountain Ranch hives fail again, you won’t have to start all over because the Sonora hives will be here.”
To give mom credit, we were thinking about ordering some Carnelian bees next month to start in the spring. We had one, full Carnelian hive a few years ago, but when the queen died, we had to re-queen the hive with what we had in the second hive: Italians. The Italians never produced quite as much honey and they obviously weren’t nearly as adaptive.

4) “I’d get Freyja bred as soon as possible. It sounds like she may be in heat now. Ask around and see if anyone will breed her for you to one of their Boer goats. That way she will only need to be transported down the road a bit and you won’t have to wait a whole year to get her bred. Use the milk, sell the babies.

5) “Dig holes now for any trees you want to plant in the spring. And then dig holes so we can get some anchor points for goat tethers set up in the field. You won’t need an expensive fence out there right away and the goats can still benefit from the forage.”

6) “Turkeys were a good idea. Keep raising turkeys. Don’t even bother with meat chickens. The turkeys are doing really well out there even in the freezing cold and heat.”