Fall used to be my favorite season. Nice, crisp weather (read—not the scorching Alabama summer); Thanksgiving; Beautiful Trees; Campfires; I could go on…..
But I’ve changed my mind about that….I love Spring. Spring allows for renewal and retries—which I am always in need of these days…It allows for time outside and sunshine and short sleeves and work.
I have really missed working on projects this winter. I have felt sort of blah about things lately, and I finally realized it was because I was ready to be busy. In the last few years, we have gotten in a groove around here of finding projects to work on and knocking them out. We work on them together, as a family. We finish them, as a family. We move on to the other projects on the list, and each member of the family has projects that they want to get done. We work on them all together. Together is my favorite part.
We finally got Winnie’s stanchion built this week, and it felt so good to get it checked off! (I think she was secretly waiting on us to get her stanchion built before she has that calf of hers….). But it reminded me how great it was to work on a project and get it done.
I am excited about the projects we have on the docket for the next few months…Finishing the Cowboy’s Shop, Getting the garden up and going, Building a rabbit hutch, A desk for the girls’ bedroom, Restoring the vintage kitchen table……I'm sure there will be more......
But, mostly, I’m excited about the together part of all those projects.......and the sweet memories that we build while working......together.
Until next time,
My excitement continues to build!!!!
I know that just any day now, we will have a little calf running around the farm. And, honestly, my brain is not even able to wrap itself around that notion. I don’t think it is reality to me yet.
I have been so frantic about getting all the supplies ready and getting my mind in order for Winnie’s delivery, that I haven’t even really had the time or ability to stop and ponder the joys that await us. A little bitty, reddish brown, slobbering, buck-toothed calf is going to be HERE. On our farm! I am so excited to meet that little stinker!
And along with all the joy, there is a sense of duty. What will I ultimately do with this precious little calf as it gets older. What route will we choose to go??
This is a reality that I have known from the outset. I went into Jersey ownership knowing that we will have to make a choice when the calf is weaned. I went in knowing that every year I will have a new choice to make.
Choices I had never, ever thought of before we began our homesteading journey just a few years ago.
As a society, we are so far removed from the facts of farming. We go to the store and pick up the gallon jugs of milk, the styrofoam and plastic wrapped pounds of beef, the cut up and de-boned chicken pieces, the twenty-nine cent per dozen eggs—we get it all in our buggy, pay a VERY small price for most of it, and go on our way without the thought of all that really is involved in our food systems.
And, before you think I am getting preachy about this whole subject, please know that I am not saying it is wrong. I do those things I just mentioned! Or I have done them in the very recent past. So, I am NOT saying that we are wrong if we buy milk from the store—in fact I very much recommend it!
What I am saying is this—it is really important for each and every consumer to be educated about what it takes to make the food system we are a part of work. It is important for many reasons.
First, farmers are people. Good people who love animals. They spend their lives cultivating a healthy environment for the animals they raise to send to market. They wake up in the middle of the night to check on the sick ones. They put their whole beings into the animals that they raise to feed their fellow citizens. We owe them respect and appreciation. We owe them consideration. We owe them a living wage. We, as consumers, also owe them a working knowledge of what it takes to bring an animal or animal product to market—all the decisions they have to make along and along—to make sure that our food supply is healthy and vibrant. Because a LOT of those decisions are HARD.
So hard that most of us choose to support the farmer and not be the farmer. But we shouldn’t forget that someone has to make those decisions. I am thankful for the gritty, kind hearted, fearless farmers who feed America.
Secondly, I believe we should think a little more about what we pay for what we eat. I think this goes along with number one, so I may be cheating here. But, consider what it takes to get the food we consume to market. I don’t have a clue about all the work and cost that goes into most of the food supply. The little bit of working, first hand knowledge I do have makes me cringe at eggs that cost a quarter a dozen, or milk that costs less than $2 a gallon. Again, I am not saying it’s wrong to buy cheap eggs. I encourage folks to drink milk! So, buy it up! But, we can think of our money as our vote for certain things. And when I consider the folks at the beginning of the cycle (the small family farmers), I want them to know I appreciate their work. I want them to have a living wage. I really want them to be able to afford next year’s supplies without having to put their house up for collateral—and loosing it if it doesn’t rain enough. There’s the local honey we could buy from craigslist or facebook marketplace. The family farms that sell beef or pork or chicken are easy enough to find (peekfarms.com is a good place to start!). There are tons of local farmer’s markets that give farmers the opportunity to sell straight to the consumer! I am certainly not saying that I do all of these all the time—but I am saying they are good choices to consider when we want to give the farmers a societal high-five and “atta boy”.
Third, if we want to take control of our health, we will know what we are eating. And what what we are eating is eating. Educating ourselves about GMO’s and Organic and Gluten Free and All Natural and all the other food labels that companies like to plaster on their packages, slogans and shelves will help us to make the best decisions for our family. My decisions don’t have to be the same as yours. Your decisions are the ones that are best for your family. But knowledge is power. And we can go a long way in empowering our bodies to be their best when we are educated about what we are fueling them with!
Wow. That was a lot. All because I am stressing about what to do with a year old cow that hasn’t even been born.
Leave it to me to do something like that…..
Until Next Time,
I thought today would be a good day to take a break from Calf Watch 2020 and write about another topic I am pretty passionate about….
Homemade All Natural Cleaning Spray
A few reasons why I make my own cleaner--
If you read this year’s first blog post, you’ll have a little bit of an understanding about why I feel pretty strongly about using natural products.
Also, I have a tendency to not trust “the man”—and when I say “the man” I really mean “the giant corporate world that has taken over the super market shelves and given us chemicals in place of natural things that work just as good (or better) without nasty side effects”—just so we are on the same page…..(I could go on a good long while about that topic, but I will save it for another day—or I may just keep it all to myself….yeah, that’s probably a wiser choice.)
And, I just don’t love to throw useful things in the trash. That’s one benefit of having chickens. They don’t care what kind of nasty scrap it is that I throw out to them—they scarf it up just the same! And when you can take scraps and make an all natural, antibacterial cleaner, that may be even better than making it into eggs. Well, maybe not BETER…but you know what I am saying…..
So, here’s what I do to make a homemade, natural cleaner that really works!!
Any time we eat oranges or use lemons (our misfitsmarket.com subscription makes sure we never run out of those!! You can get a discount on your first box when you use my code--COOKWME-QU7XQE), I save the peels and put them in a glass jar—the bigger the jar, the more cleaner you can make at once, so choose your jar wisely…..
I cover the peels with vinegar, filling the jar to the top.
I let it sit for about two weeks, or longer if I can—the longer it steeps the better it will be!!
When the vinegar is good and infused with the citrus oils (see what we’re doing here?? it’s replacing essentials oils that cost $$ with scraps and getting an even better result!!!!) you can pour off the liquid and throw the scrap peels away. The vinegar will have a BEAUTIFUL fragrance, a tinge of color, and will be ready to use!
Even better, you can dilute it with water to make it last twice as long. I add half water and half cleaner to my spray bottle and it seems to work perfectly. If I don’t dilute it, it tends to be pretty strong on the vinegar smell, and I get some complaints from my cleaning helpers.
All Natural, Antibacterial, All Purpose Cleaner for less than a penny an ounce!!!
AND, it gives a streak free clean to windows, stainless steel, and granite!
One last note—if you haven’t tried cleaning with microfiber cloths, you totally should!! Any microfiber will work—you don’t have to be invited to a party and spend $50 for them….I have used cloths from Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot, and, my all time favorite, Harbor Freight….They all work really well and they are all less than 50 cents a piece. Just an extra tidbit for you, there….
You should DEFINITELY give making your own cleaner a try! And let me know what you think!!
When I began this cow ownership thing, I came in a total novice. I had never even been very close to cattle at all, save the few times I was hanging out with my Uncle while he was working his cows.
You know how they say, "The third time's the charm..."??? Well. This is my third go at this blogging thing. I am really perturbed at myself for the lack of discipline I have shown in getting new content on the website.
Last year, I finally just threw my hands up and gave up feeling bad about it. Now, I am ready to begin again.
And I have a goal of getting a new post up once a week--hopefully each Wednesday.
I am really hoping for some small victories early on.....I am hoping I can mark this off my to-do list every single week.......
So, for the first post of the year, I wanted to share our story. I wanted to explain how we got here and some of the why's.
Every homestead or farm has a story. This is ours.
We were an “average” family. Living in the city our whole lives, eating Little Debbies and drinking Dr. Pepper.
Then we had kids. Three of them. Little girls. Three sweet, little girls in less than two years.
That, my friends, will change you. And it changed me. When I became a Mommy, I became more aware of what we were consuming. I thought a little bit more about what I cleaned with. I changed from clorox wipes to clorox anywhere spray. I know…..I really knew how to make the jump into healthy living!!!!
Then my middle girl got to where she was having food allergies. Not all the time, and not to a lot of things. But every now and then she would have a few whelps.
I became more conscious of what I fed her.
I began a VERY slow journey of changing how we ate. Changing what we ate. I slowly phased out more and more processed foods.
Then, there was the last straw.
I was making dinner and decided instead of making the alfredo sauce, I would finally use up the jar that I had bought quite a while before. It had been in the pantry for several months and I decided I should just go ahead and get rid of it. So we had dinner and a movie—Willy Wonka and Fettuccine Alfredo. The perfect Saturday night for our family.
Then she started complaining...."she" being the middle child I told you about earlier.
“Mama, I am really itchy!!!”
So, we stopped the movie. We turned on the lights. She was one big whelp. Her arms, her belly, her legs. And it was going up her neck.
Just thinking about it gives me anxiety. We got her EpiPen ready for action and monitored her breathing closely. The nurse said she should be okay as long as her breathing was fine. We gave her benadryl. We waited and watched. While we were watching her condition, I looked at the ingredients to see what in the world would have caused such a bad reaction.
Modified Egg Yolks.
Now, I have already told you that I am a city girl. I didn’t know much about chickens and I didn’t know much about eggs (back then I didn’t…I have gained quite a bit of knowledge of those things now…). But it sure was curious to me as to why you would want to modify an egg yolk. I mean, those things are pretty much the perfect food as is—why you wanna go and mess around with that???
Shelf life, that’s why. If you mess with an egg yolk enough, it becomes twinkie-like and shelf stable for YEARS.
And after just a bit of research, what I found they modify it with is an ingredient also found in snake venom.
You may want to go back and read those last two words again. Snake. Venom. Because there’s nothing weird or scary about inserting snake venom into my child’s diet. I mean, that just seems totally……UNNATURAL AND RIDICULOUS!!!!!!!
And that was the catalyst that I needed to move us toward natural living.
It started slowly. Slow movements toward a more natural way of life.
Making my own bread. Making my own pudding. Making my own brownies.
Then I tried to have a garden. Total fail.
Then we built a raised bed. That went a lot better, but it wasn’t much to write home about.
Then we decided…
<<It's at this point in the story where I need to take you aside for a minute and explain something--when I say “we” that is the total royal use of the word because I have been dragging my poor family along on this journey…but they ARE coming around slowly. Maybe I should just stop saying we and be real about this whole thing.>>
Anyway.....Where was I??? Oh, yeah. I remember now.
I decided that I wanted chickens. Which was pretty unfortunate because we lived in a subdivision. With an HOA. The sort of HOA that sent letters for leaving your garbage can near the road for longer than 30 minutes. And you better not even THINK about having weeds in your flower beds. Or leave your garage door open. So, as you can see, the chicken thing was just not going to happen. Not in the subdivision.
So, we did what any forward thinking, sane couple would do.
We sold our house.
And bought 14 acres of uphill forest land.
And moved in with my parents.
And then moved into a leaky travel trailer.
And built our own house on the aforementioned acreage.
And nearly killed ourselves working too hard.
Then we got tougher.
Then we finished the house.
And.........Then we got chickens.
On February 24, 2018 I finally got chickens! Baby chickens. Six of them. They were the cutest things I had ever seen! They were all supposed to be girls. I paid more for just girls. I didn't want to deal with the consequences of boy chickens. Don't ask me how TSC knows if they are girls or boys when they are a day old. I have no idea. But I do know that I paid extra for GIRL chickens.
Four months later, I finally accepted the fact that three of them were roosters.
It was August before I got any eggs.
By November I had had to butcher two of the three roosters because you can’t have three roosters and three hens.
Me. The city girl. Butchering chickens.
Mind you, three years before I could not stand the thought of touching a whole chicken from the store…But there I was, butchering, processing and eating my own home grown meat.
I have learned that, obviously, there’s a lot more than just gathering eggs when you have chickens.
And I have learned that the farm life is a “learn the hard way” kind of life.
I have also learned that life on a farm is the most satisfying way to spend your time.
I have squealed with joy. I have cried myself to sleep. I have hated guineas. I have loved guineas. I have pampered a sick chicken just to watch it die. I have pampered a nearly dead chick to bring it back to life. I have lived the roller coaster. And I am so glad to be here.
I have learned how to do a lot of things on my own. Things that I never thought I could. Things that seemed too hard a year or two ago.
I have pushed myself to the point of tears because I was so exhausted. I have tested my limits and learned that I am tougher than I thought I was.
I am still no good at gardening. I let weeds grow and I don’t remember to water stuff and I let the chickens get into the garden. But I can grow okra. And squash. And tomatoes. And I will do better this year, because I am surely not giving up. Not now. Not after I have lived this way.
This year, the good Lord willing, will be a better year. I will be stronger. I will be tougher. I will be smarter.
I love this life. I have loved the journey that brought us here. And I find joy in every new step of it.
Now, it’s onward and upward.
Because we have added a dairy cow to the mix.
And she’s gonna have a baby.
Then she’s gonna give milk.
And I have a lot more to learn before then.
Thanks for coming along on that journey with me! I hope you will share yours with me! Comment below or send me an email! I look forward to hearing about what has brought you to where you are!
Meet Little Bit.
She is the one chick I have left from the four I got with the mama bantam in the summer. Her brother died two Sundays ago. I loved him. He was a sweet and beautiful rooster, but I lost him to a mite infestation that I couldn’t beat. It was a hard loss.
Then Little Bit got sick. Presumably from the same thing, mites, as she and Little Man were inseparable. She was really down--no energy, not eating. It was bad. But I had to try to save her.
So, I pulled her out of the flock and kept her in the sun in a crate. After dusting her with Diatomaceous Earth to kill the bugs, I gave her extra minerals and feed to try to strengthen her body, . She improved, so I put her back in the coop. But sometime Thursday, she went missing. I spent all afternoon hunting her, with no success at all. She was gone. So, I had lost two of my favorite chickens in the same week. That was hard to take. My heart was burdened because I felt like I could have prevented the problem if I had just been more watchful. If I had just been more careful for them.
I assumed the cat had caught her and eaten her and that I was never going to find her little body.
But on Friday afternoon, I went out to check on everyone, and lo and behold, there was Little Bit!! Alive and well. Well, I thought she was well. I was elated. It was like the story of the lost sheep in Luke 15! I had found her!! And my heart was full of joy!!!
Saturday, when I opened up the coop, Little Bit didn’t jump out like normal. She just laid there, really weak. Again. So, I picked her up and brought her in the house and put her in the mud sink. I dusted her again, gave her yogurt and mineral water, hoping she would show signs of improvement. She was pretty bad, so I wasn’t expecting much. But, because I couldn’t just give up on her, I did all I could. I forced fluids and offered her food. She mostly just laid there with her eyes closed, not even having enough energy to open them. Throughout the day, she just pretty much laid there.
I checked on her through the night and gave more fluids.
Sunday, I woke up expecting her to have passed. She was still holding on. So, I did the treatments again, left for church, and expected her to be gone when I returned.
She was still alive. She was actually improving. So, I kept checking on her every few hours, forcing fluids and offering food.
She took a bad turn again, and it looked really bleak. But, I kept giving her fluids, thinking there was just a small chance that she could get better again. She did.
Monday morning, she was okay. Not great, but better. By Monday afternoon, her head was laying limp on the blanket and she was gasping for air. Nearly dead.
By Monday night, she was alert, eating a lot of yogurt and feed and taking the fluids (and added essential oils) I was pushing.
Today, she is still showing signs of improving. I have been shocked at her resilience. And I have been emotionally drained by the whole process.
I know it is a chicken. A little bitty tiny chicken.
But she is my chicken. I love her. I am her caretaker. I have nurtured her from when she was a week old. I have fed and cared for her for all these months and I can’t just “let go”. That isn’t how this farming thing works.
You have to be willing to go the extra mile (or five) for even the smallest in your flock. You have to be dedicated enough to give it all you have, even when you think it’s hopeless. Because as long as there is life, there is hope.
And that makes all the difference.
I LOVE THIS LIFE. I love the millions of reasons to be outside. I love the feeling of accomplishment when I plant a seed and something (no matter how small) grows. I love gathering the eggs, no matter how few I get each day. I love being around the animals and caring for them. I love watching them grow. I never get tired of it. I mean, sure I get tired, but never of the duties of the farm/homestead. Because each duty brings me true joy and happiness.
But there’s one duty that I don’t love. Not even a little bit. And that duty is culling animals.
It’s just so hard.
I haven’t yet purchased animals for the purpose of processing for meat. That is coming very soon, hopefully, but not yet. Therefore, the animals that I have on the farm have been purchased to perform a task, provide a service, or be a source of ongoing food supply.
But, in my ignorance and new-farmer status, I made a mistake on my first pullet purchase and I am still paying for it—even a year in. I made the mistake of buying my first pullets at the large, nation wide box-store style feed store. You know the one. I’m not here to knock them. They have things they are good at. Then there’s things they aren’t….selling baby chicks is NOT their strong point. Here’s a little note to those who may be a little behind me on the farming gig (which will be pretty much no one because I’m still so green….): Don’t buy your livestock from a place that also sells lollipops and lipgloss. It’s not going to end well.
So, what was the big deal? A chick is a chick, right? Nope!
They labeled the pullets and cockerels separately and had them in different tubs. Great! I’ll take 6 pullets! They cost more, you say? That’s fine!! I am not ready for roosters! I will pay a premium for ladies only! All the stuff I will need for 6 chicks will be $200? Ok! Sounds reasonable to me! Thanks! I’ll see you next time I need some feed!! Thanks, big box store feed store worker who is probably still in high school and knows even LESS about chickens than I do!!! This is going to work out perfectly!!!
And, off we (yes, I took the entire family on this adventure) went with our 6 chicks, ready for a lifetime of fresh eggs and happiness.
But, when you get your first set of chickens, you never have really noticed how slow 20 weeks goes by (except when you were pregnant, and that has been a while so you’ve forgotten by now). So, I fed those little, messy birds everyday. I checked to be sure I did it all by the book and not lose one of them. I mean, I was super serious about caring for these little birds! They are the beginning of my farm, and I loved them all.
And then things start to change.
Someone starts growing a comb a lot bigger and faster than the others. Then I notice another larger than normal comb. Maybe it’s just the breed, I tell myself. Maybe they are just eating more, I say in a feigned reassuring, muttering-to-myself kind of voice. And then they started cock-a-doodle-doing. Not one. Not two. But three. How in the world!?! How in the world did I-the beginning, novice, knows nothing about nothing, just wanting eggs to cook for breakfast farmer-end up with THREE roosters!?!?!
Yep! Three out of six were roos. And, remember the part where I paid MORE for hens?? Let’s not forget that part! So, I’ve been doing all this cleaning and feeding and caring for half the eggs I was expecting. UGH. Thanks, big box style feed store. I owe you one. Or three….
But that isn’t near the worst part. No. Not by a long shot. The worst comes later. When they get older and you realize you cannot possibly have flock of 6 birds and 3 of them be roosters. So, I took the one that was the meanest and….listed him on craigslist.
Are you laughing yet? Because, if you aren’t, you need to go back and read that again. I thought craigslist was going to fix my problem…….
But really!!! I didn’t get into this chicken gig for meat! I only wanted eggs!
But when craigslist garners only one response, and IT is from a guy wanting to meet you at the tattoo parlor to trade out money for bird, you sort of realize your options are pretty limited.
And I was not about to meet some scary man from craigslist at a tattoo parlor.
So, I took mr. rooster and butchered him. All by myself. With my children watching and holding the phone so I could watch the you-tube video of the woman going through step by step of how to butcher your own chicken. (that is a very well done video, by the way, and I appreciate you-tube not taking it down for graphic violence because I really REALLY needed that video!!)
So, I let the other two live because they were not mean and I didn’t want to deal with that again at the time. And they are still here.
But not for long.
Because for the second time in as many weeks, the barred rock rooster has come up behind me—ninja style—and spurred the snot out of me. Now, I am not sure how many of you have experience that lovely piece of work called a “rooster attack”, but think of it more like a sneak-attack from behind with a low swinging 2x4 being knocked across your leg and foot area at the force similar in strength to a tornado. And the first time wasn’t so bad because I had my boots on. But, the second time it was warm outside. And I was wearing my chacos.
Yeah. It hurt major bad. And it made me REALLY angry. Because when you get ninja’d in the bare foot by a stupid chicken you have done nothing but care for and feed….it’s pretty maddening…..
But, why did it take an attack from him for me to know that I really HAVE to cull him?? I have known deep down for a while that is what I needed to do. But I hate it. I mean, he was supposed to be a she. And she was supposed to be an egg layer. And I got attached. And, I didn’t realize all I was getting into when I got those little chicks that day. But, I’m committed to being a farmer. And farmers have to do hard things sometimes.
And, come Saturday, I’m gonna have to be a real-life, grown up farmer.
A new year. A new adventure. A new name.
Welcome to Stoney Brooke Farms.
What you just read is a dream come true.
I have been longing for a real-life farm with a real-life name for a very long time. And now I have both. And I am in love.
When we purchased our land of pine trees and hills, we began a journey that will take us along the road less travelled. That is what we (okay, it’s really more like “I") wanted. I wanted to do things the hard way. The old way. Like my great-grandparents did them. Why, exactly? I cant really say for sure. But it was a deep rooted desire to get back to the land and do it myself (which is a personality flaw my family has been dealing with for a very long time now…).
So, in 2017, we cleared out a lot of those pine trees and even a few oaks and maples. We built a home. It is really a dream home for us, perfect for our needs. In early 2018 I purchased 6 chicks from Tractor Supply and began the farm life. Last summer we cleared about 3 acres more and began construction on our barn. We have seeded the pasture and are in the process of deciding which type of fence to put up for the larger animals we hope to add later this year.
As you can imagine, establishing a farm is a long term process. I used to be a very “I Want It NOW” kind of person. But not so much anymore. I have become an “Anything Good Takes Time” kind of girl. I now understand that good things take time to do right, and so I am better able to wait for all those things on the list.
I’ve become a real life farmer over the past year. I have learned that you don’t have to have a hundred head of cattle to be a real farmer. You just have to start where you are and love the land and animals you have.
I have started counting time by seasons. I have discovered a love for seed catalogs. I have changed the way I think of worms. I have learned to enjoy the early winter nights that let you sit down and rest a lot earlier than the summer ones do. I have learned that I can do hard things that farmers have to do―things like culling a rooster or burying an animal that you have become attached to. I have learned that death is part of farming.
But so is life.
And the life part is what makes it all worth it.
Until next time―Happy Farming!
HELLO & WELCOME!!