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The First Farm

The Storm Before the Calm

This is the storm before the calm.  Maybe.  I have no way of knowing that, really.

A lot has happened in the last few months, a lot is still going to happen this month, and then I hope to take a step back and do some future planning and reflecting in the coming months.

First of all – I get married in NINE days.  Or, maybe by the time I finish this and post it, it’s one day…or it has already happened.  Either way, it seems unreal.  Not in the “I’m never going to get married” kind of way, but in the “OMG this is really happening to me, I’m getting MARRIED” way.  I’ve never been the one to day dream about a future wedding, but this really is like a fairy tale – this is what most people are looking for, right?  Someone to spend the rest of their life with and that’s us!  We’re doing this!  Scott is awesome.  He made a heart out of the hose this morning before I fed the chickens hoping it would brighten my day.  It did. 

Side Note: for most of you that wouldn’t know this – we are getting married on the farm!

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Speaking of the farm…

I now have 6 goats.  Cordelia and Shyla: the original gals.  Piper: Cordelia’s kid.  Big Daddy Rocco.  And the new ladies Gwendolyn and Helen.  This is all wonderful and dandy but I am having to prepare myself for Piper to leave the farm.  She can’t live there forever because I keep Rocco and that’s her dad.  It will definitely be sad, but I have to remember, if other people didn’t sell their goats – I wouldn’t have any.

I have stopped milking Cordelia.  Pro: Sleep in.  Con: No goat cheese and I feel like a bit of a quitter.  I did not separate Piper at all during the time I was milking Cordelia.  She always seemed to have plenty of milk and everyone seemed happy and healthy so I didn’t feel that it was necessary.  The problem with that is – I’m not really controlling the amount of milk she’s producing, the baby is, so when Piper didn’t need as much, Cordelia didn’t produce as much.  So Kelsey didn’t get as much.  I didn’t want to push it and with the wedding going on, it was one less thing to have to do.  Oh, and when we’re on our honeymoon, my mom requested she not have to milk a goat every morning while my parents watch the farm.

This fall I will breed Cordelia and Shyla.  Gwendolyn and Helen are still small and I think just having one kid vs. potentially 8 would be insane.  Even for me.  But seriously.  Think about having 8 baby goats.  I just got distracted and thought about baby goats for 20 minutes.

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Beekeeping is crazy.  We are now getting much “better” at it, much calmer, and having so many bees flying around your face is much less unsettling.  One hive seems to be doing awesome but we’re not super confident with the other.  We opened one up and there were hardly any bees inside.  We didn’t think we saw any eggs or a queen.  In case you aren’t yourself a little beekeeper, you need to see these things.  We checked the other hive and it was awesome.  We get back to the house and do some research on what we were/weren’t doing and next thing you know we hear a tornado of bees and watched half of them leave the hive.  This isn’t good. Well…

We got back in a week later and we saw a TON of bees and it looked like they had really gotten to work!  Found some queen cells (maybe they are creating their own queen now), I fed them a bunch of sugar water but we may not get any honey from that hive this fall.

Rabbit breeding is not as easy as one would assume.  You know what they say about rabbits right?  Well….it’s not like that.  They do not seem interested and when the buck (boy rabbit) finally is – he um…usually positions himself on the wrong end.  Practice makes perfect I suppose so we’ll keep trying.  Hoping to have one litter this summer at least! 

Later:  I’ve been doing some research and checking his…parts….and it looks like he may not quite be sexually mature yet. 

Chickens.  We have far too many.  I will be the first to admit that.  We have 6 bantam chicks (Bantam = Tiny Chicken) and they can fit through the chain link in their outdoor run so they basically have free reign all day long and they head to the woods and hang out there all day. 

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The turkeys are weird.  I can’t do anything without them following me.  It’s cute but also a little annoying because they come in to the house if I leave the door open for a second.  I put one on Roosevelt the Farm Dog’s back last night to see if he would take him for a ride.  Turkey didn’t sit still enough.

The ducks are smelly.  I think they are going to have to move out of the yard and go live with the goats and bunnies out in a field.

Post Wedding:

I will be looking for new jobs after the wedding.  It’s time to cut the commute a bit and have some brain power/will to accomplish goals when I get home.  When I leave work now, I’m simply just dead inside.

I also want to spend plenty of time “perfecting” instead of growing growing growing.  Take some time to really make some awesome fields for the goats.  Get the rabbit business up and running.  Work towards all grass fed, free range, organic this, organic that before adding yet another animal to the farm.

I’d also like to lay out some solid goals that I HAVE to meet.  Not just “eat healthy” or “get stronger”, but sell enough eggs to cover the cost of the chickens, make money with a booth at a craft fair, figure out how to build a business for Scott and I.

I’d like to take a step back for myself too.  I have a lot I’d like to work on inside myself and it’s hard to do that when it’s go time all the time and I’m always worried about a million other things.

Well that got lengthy.  This may be farewell for a bit until I get my bearings straight again.  Enjoy your summer evenings, get outside, get dirty, be happy.

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Love

“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: “Love. They must do it for love.” Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide. I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.” —-Wendell Berry. 

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Fun on the Farm

It’s been a while.
I’m busy.
I’ve never been so busy and overwhelmed in my whole life.  It’s good and bad.

Forgive me.  I didn’t take any pictures.  It’s rainy and wet and everything is dirty and muddy and there aren’t enough hours in the day.  But where I say “insert _______ picutre here” just imagine it.

I have far too many chickens.  I thought it would be fun to get these 6 bantam (tiny, TINY) chicks and that has turned out to be a bit of a pain.  They can squeeze through any hole and they’re so unreasonably small, they can’t live with the big chickens yet so it’s just ridiculous how much more work is involved for these 6 little guys.  They better all be girls though and lay eggs.

But look how cool they’re going to look!

I found this picture on Pinterest.  I don’t even have time to take pictures.

The ducks and turkeys are growing fast.  They’re fun.  I forgot how much I liked having turkeys.

The lady goats are good – as always.  Rocco, the buck (non castrated boy goat – see, look how much you’re learning), is on my last nerve.  He spends most of his day with his head stuck in something or trying to escape.  He has lush pasture all around him but nope, what’s on the other side is better.  I’m wondering if he needs a friend…that he can’t get pregnant. So now I’m in the market for a castrated (fixed) boy goat.  I’m also in the market for a new lady goat!  I can’t keep Baby Piper forever…obviously can’t breed her with her dad so we may have more goats here soon!

INSERT GOAT PICTURES HERE

We’re about to start breeding the rabbits!  Finally those freeloaders are going to earn their keep!  I’m REALLY excited to have a sustainable and ethically raised meat around…sorry.

Beekeeping has started and it is not going well.  Scott and I have both been stung so many times. Beekeeping is all about patience, moving slow, listening to and following directions, and asking for help.  I am not good at any of those things.  I’m trying really hard to have a positive experience out of this next weekend’s hive inspection before we keep moving forward.

INSERT BEEKEEPING PICTURE HERE

I’ve had quite a few failed kitchen experiments here recently.  Just tried the goat cheese cake I made and it tastes really….goaty. Not really what you’re looking for in a cheesecake. On your tongue, it tastes sweet and a little citrusy from the orange peel I added and then it tastes like I’m licking one of the goats.  I wonder if the cheese wasn’t fresh enough.  The older it is the goaty-er it is.  I’ll try again.  I’m determined to love it.  Also, a ton of goat cheese went bad because we weren’t eating enough and I was too lazy to get creative with it.  But that’s what the chickens are for.

I need to learn how to make goat’s milk soap. It keeps forever and we’re a little sick of chevre, I’ve made some smoothies, and it’s all we use when we need milk but aged cheese has been difficult to work in to my overwhelmingly busy schedule.

 

The garden is finally starting to pop.  The lettuce is divine.  It smells divine.  It tastes divine.  I don’t even need salad dressing.  I want salad all day every day.  The kohlrabi is also doing really well but I don’t even know how you eat kohlrabi.

INSERT GARDEN PICTURE HERE

I really really really really want to quit my job and ramp up the farm.  Now is not the time though 😦  I keep finding myself with less money than I thought I had and unable to pursue the farm revenue outlets I desire.  It’s illegal to do almost anything.  Dairy products?  Forget it.  Meat?  You’ve got to be kidding.

Last but not least: SCOTT AND I GET MARRIED IN A MONTH!!!!!!!  I can’t even believe it.  I got my first piece of mail today addressed with my new last name and it felt amazing and weird at the same time!

P.S.  My two best lifelong friends are coming in to town this weekend and the three of us haven’t all been together in two and a half years.  I’m overflowing with joy right now.

Things and Stuff

I can’t stop thinking about cheese.

My whole life kind of revolves around the goats and cheese right now.  Let me tell you why.

Every morning-  Every. Single. Morning. I put on my milking pajamas, because I’m classy and have an outfit for everything,  grab my pale and head outside.  First I feed the chickens, the big chicks, the ducks, the little chicks, the rabbits, the boy goat, the other girl goats, and then grab Cordelia.  I bring her over to her milking stand.

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This nifty little piece of equipment keeps her in place and up high because I want something to sit on so I’m not really reaching underneath her.  I can also lock her head in while she’s eating so she doesn’t really move around.  Not that she really wants to go anywhere – I think it must feel good to not have an udder that feels like it’s about to explode.  I don’t know…I’ve never lactated before.  She eats breakfast and I wash off her udder and milk away.

You’ve never felt pain in your forearms until you’ve hand milked something (as opposed to using a milking machine).  But now I’m super strong and feel no pain.  Squirt squirt squirt. I leave some in there for Baby Piper who still primarily drinks milk.  Then I go inside and pour it through a coffee filter and put it in the jar in the fridge.  DON’T WORRY; CORDELIA IS NOT STILL LOCKED UP. Then every 4 days I have enough milk to make cheese.  But since we only use goat milk whenever we need milk, I use if for recipes as well.  It really doesn’t taste goaty unless it gets a little old.  I also keep it raw.  Which means I’m not pasteurizing it.  I’m not getting in to that discussion here but it’s a choice I’ve made and am so far comfortable with it.

Then there is cheese making.  I’ve pretty much “mastered” your basic goat cheese as it’s not aged.  You just make it and bam you’ve got cheese.  I mean, it takes 19 hours but whatever.  However, this other kind I just made aged on the counter for 2 days, in the fridge for 2 days and now in a jar of olive oil for a week.  Now….if any bad bacteria got in there, I’m not sure I’d know until I get salmonella.  Oh well…that’s time off work.  Or death…whatever.

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I found this picture from UrbanOveralls.net – this is what my new cheese SHOULD look like…we’ll see.

All this work and this is just one goat.  The plan is to have 3 in milk (aka 3 goats that I’m milking) by this time next year.  Doesn’t seem like much but it really will be.  I’ll have to make cheese every other day.  And milking one goat takes about 20 minutes.  3 will take a solid hour.

If you’ve ever thought about growing/raising/making/whatever-ing all of your own food – do it.  I love it.  I need it.  I crave it.  We’ve got eggs, milk, veggies on the way, honey on the way, and meat on the way.

Which segues me (not really) in to my next topic: Bees!

We get 20,000 honey bees next weekend!  I have NO IDEA what I’m doing but it will be great!  Right?!  Think of the honey!  Hopefully Scott gets in to the beekeeping thing because I think he’ll be better at it than me.  It’s all about listening to and following directions.

The next thing on the way is: More Rabbits!

The rabbits don’t get a lot of mention.  They’re pretty quiet and just keep to themselves.  Here soon, though, they are about to play a very important role on The Farm.  We’re planning on having a litter a month so as to have rabbit meat as one meal per week.  Pretty excited for this endeavor – they’re easier to raise than meat chickens and much more sustainable.

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Speaking of meat: Turkeys

I just got 3 baby turkeys this weekend.  Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria 2.0.

Speaking of food: the garden

The garden isn’t super exciting right now… we have gotten some asparagus out of it and the rabbits have eaten some weeds.

Still working on this food theme:

I LOVE growing and raising my own food.  To say it is satisfying is an understatement.  I crave learning new things, raising more things, growing more things.  I also love making a home cooked meal.  Or trying a new dessert.  Or finding ways to make a store-bought thing myself, trying to forever eliminate my need to go grocery shopping.

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I know that many of you do not feel this way.  That’s ok.  But I think everyone should try their hand at a few new recipes every once and a while.  Try and enjoy cooking.  Make it not such a daunting, scary task.  People LOVE trying your homemade goods and no one will ever criticize you for trying…to your face.

My longest friend, Lauren, has started a food newsletter.  While her cooking adventures are quite different than mine (she lives in a tiny NYC apartment and does not have the same affinity for farm animals as I do) – we will thoroughly enjoy a good dinner party, making new things, and can sit down and really ENJOY eating the food as much as we enjoyed the process of making it.  While I may go out to the garden for a fresh squash, she’ll trek all over New York City looking for quality rhubarb. We also are both known to use food as a bribe to get our significant others to do what we want.  What?  Like you don’t?  So subscribe to her newsletter here: tinyletter.com/laurenalexis because you can use your farming skills you learn here to raise and grow the food she cooks there.

Cheese Making

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Every morning, I am up before the sun to milk the goat.  Every morning.  Saturdays and Sundays too.  Even after celebrating a friend’s wedding until late in the night.  Luckily it’s dark out and no one else is awake yet, because I am typically still in my pajamas for this chore.

But milking time has become my favorite moment in the day.  The world is still and dark and quiet and the only sounds are of Cordelia slowly munching on her grain and the wild turkey gobbles that must be camping out near our yard….(don’t tell Kyle).

I am my best, most peaceful, patient self in these moments.

To me, learning how to make cheese has been a total labor of love.  Waiting my whole life for this farm, then the 5 months for the goat to give birth, then every 4 days or so when I have enough milk to start another batch…

Who doesn’t love cheese?  Who doesn’t feel a little more mature, a little fancier, a little Parisian when they bring a nice brie or gruyere to a party?

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Making cheese itself is peaceful.  It’s slow.  There are no short cuts.  And the reward is cheese.  Delicious, amazing cheese.

Maybe this seems weird.  Maybe this is getting a little too emotional for you.  Maybe you hate cheese.  Maybe you’re lactose intolerant.

But this is so amazing to me.  I’m doing it.  I decided when I was 9 and I milked my first goat that goats were the best thing ever and that I was going to be a milk maid, dairy queen, cheese making artisan barefoot homesteading farmer wonder woman.  And here I am.

How to Tell if Your Goat is in Labor

You just freak out for a week and hope for the best.

Just kidding.  Ha ha kidding.  Get it?

The Girls

One:

You should make sure you know when your goats…you know…did it.  Because then you can mark your calendar for 150 days out and start getting ready beforehand.

I saw my goats….do it…on October 22nd.  So I marked my calendar for March 25th because I can’t count.  Then, around March 18th realized I really should have marked it for the 22nd and freaked out.

Two:

Depending on your level of patience and expertise, you can start checking the next few things a week or so out.  The first clue I had that she was getting close was that it looked like her belly had sort of “shifted”.  It didn’t look as high up as it had before.

Three:

About a day later, I noticed her udder getting bigger.  And it got bigger every day for about 5 days before she gave birth.

Four:

Start feeling your goat’s ligaments in her tail about a month before she gives birth so you can notice the drastic difference.  Or don’t do that until 5 days out and bother the hell out of your other, non-pregnant goat, trying to see the difference.   Every day, you’ll go “oh yeah, today is the day, those ligaments are loose baby” until it actually happens and then you’ll know really how loose they could get.

Five:

Her lady bits also got a little swollen and she had some discharge.

Six:

The day she gave birth, she kept walking off to a corner and rubbing her belly. She seemed stressed and would sort of eat and then go walk off, eat again, walk off, etc.

So I went to work for a few hours and came home to find a little wet baby goat in the shed.  Reason #658 I want to quit my job.

Piper and Roosevelt

Piper giving Roosevelt a hug while he licks his butt.

 

These are certainly not the only signs that can occur, they don’t always have to occur in this order, they don’t even have to occur at all the way you think they will.  My recommendation is that you write all of this down while it’s happening so you can look back next year and be even more prepared.

And just so you don’t feel like I’m so smart and I know everything and I’m the best farmer ever:

My chickens basically stopped laying eggs and I have no idea why.

Farm Bliss

The last few weeks have been busy – in such a good way.I told myself that the last weekend in March was going to be the “End of My To –Do List”. What?! How can the start of spring and summer be the END of your to-do list, Kelsey?!?!?! Let me explain. This would be the end of major projects, investments, and asking Scott to build me some new shed/coop/house every weekend. Spring and summer will be a time to just get outside, feel the sun on my shoulders, run around barefoot, kayak, fish, hike, and just enjoy the farm.

Because the farm has some great things going on right now!


First of all, Cordelia, kidded last week and it is the most amazing thing ever. Little Piper (is actually Big Piper) brightens my whole day.  

Cordelia is also producing so much milk, I’m getting about a quart a day! Milking every morning has been wonderful. It’s so peaceful to be up (even if it is before sunrise…) and just be outside milking. I even tried milk for the first time since I was a baby. Yuck. I’ll stick with learning how to make cheese, yogurt, and soaps. It feels awesome to know I now no longer buy eggs or milk from the grocery store.


7 new chicks came too! 4 Barred Rocks and 3 Ameraucanas. I’m excited for more eggs and green eggs!  


Scott and I tilled out the garden too. It felt so good to have my hands in the dirt and it SMELLED like spring was really here. My mouth is watering just thinking about all the fresh veggies we’re going to have this year.

I’m in farm bliss right now.

Why am I Doing This?

Everyone’s favorite question.  For starters, I don’t really remember wanting to be anything else.  Living off the land, tending to a barn full of animals, maybe going back in time 100 years…that was always The Dream.

As a kid I read all of the Little House on the Prairie books, the American Girl Doll – Kirsten series (she lived in the prairie in the 1800s), survival books like Hatchet, Julie’s Wolf Pack and My Side of the Mountain.  That’s where it all started.  Then my grandparents moved to a farm and had cows, donkeys, chickens, barn cats, and a goose or two.  I was smitten.  Then they moved to another farm where the kids next door lived on a dairy goat farm.  I got my own goats, ponies, a duck and a chicken.  Put a fork in me – I’m done.  There is nothing else.  I must be a farmer.

Me as a Kid with Goat Kid

Farming is romantic to me.  Something about a rooster crowing at 4 am is romantic.  Walking outside early on a frosty morning and sticking your hands in your goat’s warm fur.  Snuggling up next to a cow and milking them while everyone else is still asleep.  Everything just slows down.  Quiets down.  Carving out a piece of the earth that is yours.  You need it and it needs you.  Watching the circle of life. Understanding and appreciating the ebb and flow of the seasons and the weather.

Having rough hands, sore shoulders, and aching feet.  To me, THAT’S the measure of a successful day.  Seeing your progress in feet of fencing, or rows of vegetables, or happy, healthy baby animals is so much more tangible than emailing yet another spread sheet that may or may not mean anything.

Purple Flower

 

Yeah, it’s hard.  My to – do list is never ending and half of the time I’m just putting out fires and not getting anything done.  No, I may not make a lot of money.  Yes, traveling and going away for the weekend is hard, if not nearly impossible.  No, none of my friends understand it.  No, no one may understand how I can care for an animal and then eat it.  Yes, I have to get up early on the weekends.  Yes, at some point there won’t be a difference between the weekend and a weekday because there are no days off.  Yep, sometimes it will be really hot.  Or really cold.  Or really rainy.  No, that won’t really change anything.

But I love it.  I feel like it’s what I was meant to do.

Approaching the Year Mark

On February 28th, 2016 – Scott and I drove up our driveway for the first time.  

We (ok, I) had been looking online for a few months and finally found this farm on Craigslist. Ignoring the fact that we still had 6 months on our current lease and that Leesburg was nowhere near both of our jobs; we passed through the pine trees bordering the property and we knew there was no turning back.  


Old barns, a silo, and a windmill scattered the cow pastures. I knew this wasn’t going to end well – there was no way Scott would want to commute an hour and a half each way to work every day. There was no way we’d be able to afford this. There was no way we’d get out of our lease. We rounded the last bend to the little farm house to which the landlords refer to as “The Far Bungalow”. The house was adorable, there was already a chicken coop and a shed, plenty of room for a puppy, a garden.

I couldn’t even look at Scott. I knew what he was thinking. We couldn’t afford it. It was too far away. But then…he asked the realtor if we had access to the Potomac River, it had looked like it on a map. My ears perked up. Visions of taking the kayaks out after work danced in my head. “Yeah, there’s a gravel road that runs right up to it, all on the property so you’re good. You guys kayak?” Uh, yeah, we do. I asked if I could get chickens. “Yeah.” Goats? “Sure.” A puppy? “Sure thing.”  

Our little tour ended and we remained in polite silence. Not knowing what Scott was thinking was killing me. I HAD to live there. After leaving the realtor’s office, we went to lunch. Sitting across the table from one another, I prepared myself for the worst.  

I understood the commute would be awful for Scott. I understood it was far from our social life. I understood it was more expensive than we wanted but we could make some adjustments. He understood how bad I needed this. He understood that the pros of the place outweighed some of the cons. We both understood this was all contingent we could get out of our existing lease. We agreed we would try to move in.

On February 29th, 2016, I talked to our landlord. He said as long as someone rented our place, we were off the hook and he’d help us find someone. 6 hopeful tenants came though, each one turning it down. Until finally, on a Wednesday (one week before the farm wasn’t going to hold our spot) we got the call. Someone wanted our place! The catch? They wanted it by Saturday.

So we packed up our tiny apartment and the farm was ours on March 26th, 2016.

  

And the rest is history.

I can’t believe how much we have accomplished. We’ve upgraded some our furniture – no more college futon for us! I bought a new car – hellooooo red pickup truck. We’ve gotten chickens, turkeys, goats, rabbits, and a dog, bred the goats, butchered our own chickens and turkeys, started a huge garden, and built more fences and structures than I can even comprehend. We’ve planted 100 tulip bulbs, we’ve kayaked, we’ve hunted, we’ve thrown dinner parties, we’ve listened to coyotes surround the house in the middle of the night, and we’ve watched cows graze from our front porch.  


We have so much more coming in the next year…baby goats, more chickens, more turkeys, breeding the rabbits, honey bees, a bigger garden, more float trips, and more fishing. We’re even in the midst of planning our wedding here. The to-do list feels never ending but maybe more manageable. We started with NOTHING and we’re finally about to reach the surface. Look at how much this last year has brought. This is it, I’m really doing it. I can’t wait to see what this coming year brings. I can daydream and plan a new business, think of new animals to have, be a good wife and homemaker as well as farmer, friend and daughter/sister. I also want to sit back and appreciate what I’ve got. It seems too good to be true. My whole life, everything I’ve ever wanted, it’s here. It’s happening.


And with that I think I’m going to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather, sit on the front porch, and drink a glass of wine with my love.

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