Love is in the Air

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and while it may pass without much notice from my husband or me (our wedding anniversary is the end of January and we go all out for that milestone), our farm animals are definitely interested in celebrating! My friend and I have been working on fencing in a portion of her property that will serve as a honeymoon suite for our goats (Wet Your Whistle ). She houses our breeding bucks on her property in a bachelor herd. Meet the guys:

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Han is definitely the reigning stud of the bachelor herd. He is a proven sire and is the father of many of the babies at our farms. In this picture he is “flehming,” testing the air for pheremones of cycling does
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Jens is our family’s buck. He was part of the large rescue herd we brought home last year. He is a short-statured buck and will be great for breeding our pygmy does.
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Ben is the youngest buck of the group. His father is Casanova, a very prolific buck sold off last year (he became so successful as to be obnoxious to anything or anyone entering his area). He is naturally polled (hornless) like his sire, and has a very cool hairdo…check out those bangs!

I appreciate my friend’s willingness to host our buck and our does for breeding, and I love that we can share resources (we hosted her herd on our property for a year to allow them fresh forage…which is how I fell in love with the idea of goat husbandry!). Last week was moving day: we loaded up the four does I wanted with Han (thankfully it wasn’t too much of a rodeo!), and released the does into the honeymoon enclosure. The girls took some enticing with treats to get them into their temporary home, but guiding Han over was VERY easy…he was quite excited to meet the new ladies!

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Josiah’s doe, Penny, was the first to warm up to Han. She spent time with him previously and had his buckling last year, and was very interested in him once again.

Two days after introducing the does three out of four had signs they were bred, and we will be expecting new baby kids at the end of June! If time permits we plan to move a second group of does over to let them spend time with Jens in the honeymoon paddock in a week or so.

The goats aren’t the only critters feeling frisky with warming temps. Since we moved onto our property about 12 years ago I have always looked forward to February on the farm. Our pond is a ecosystem for an abundance of wild animals, including a large number of frog species. The tree frogs emerge even if there is a chill still lingering, but this weekend’s warm temps brought the chorus out in full operose. I love falling asleep to their songs, and seem to sleep better with our God-provided whitenoise.

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The green tree frog is one of several species that sing around our pond

As our short southern winter fades away we will be ramping up outdoor activities anticipating garden planting and endeavoring on a brand new adventure with honeybee hives! Stay tuned for updates…

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My little helper assisted in adding a new raised garden bed for new edibles this Spring
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Crochet All Day

Last winter I made an effort to reteach myself a skill I had learned from my grandmother decades ago (https://milestogoindixie.com/2018/02/05/homemade-and-handcrafted/ ). I started with more simple ear and hand warmers and worked my way up to Ugg-style booties before the warm weather set in and my attention was drawn outdoors. As the weather again cooled for Fall, I scoured my saved Pinterest patterns for a new challenge. I decided I wanted to attempt an article of clothing, and a long cardigan caught my eye.

https://pin.it/nyxf6upxyzxn65

The blogger did a great job posting both the pattern and video tutorials…I’m a visual learner and do well to see more complex stitches worked in a video. There was a bit of a learning curve, and I took my work with me to the kids’ sports practices, so the constant stopping and starting rows in the work meant I had to redo the back panel three times before I completed it. Once I became familiar with the stitches and correctly worked each piece it came together quickly.

I love the dark teal colored yarn, and the finished product is super warm and cozy!


After I completed my first cardigan I decided I’d also love a neutral-colored version, and I found the perfect marled oatmeal shade of yarn shortly after. The problem was the yarn was a bulkier weight, which would affect the stitch size. I decided to experiment and tweak the pattern to accommodate the thick skeins (rolls of yarn).

My whim paid off! I used a larger hook (N) and adjusted the rows and I progressed, using my teal cardigan as a guide to stay close to the sizing of the original pattern. I actually like the oatmeal version a bit better…it’s more on-trend with the chunky knits found in retail stores, and it took SO MUCH LESS time to make. I attribute that to me being more comfortable with the original stitch and pattern, but also the larger stitches mean fewer stitches overall. I actually would recommend my bulky yarn pattern to someone making the cardigan for the first time, as mistakes are noticeable sooner, and the larger stitches complete faster overall. My adjustments to the original pattern mostly affect the row counts, and are listed below:

And here is the finished product! I added my custom leather labels to my work, and have received compliments with every wear. I’m so proud to have created clothing with my own hands…I can’t to try new styles and create items for special gift recipients next Christmas!

Feel free to comment with questions.

Do you crochet? I’d love to see your work as well!

Wet Your Whistle

For most people a new year means a bit of reflection on the past and quite a lot of anticipation for the next 52 weeks. We had a dreadfully rainy December…only 4 days of sunshine. An Alabama record not many would be excited about (unless you’re a duck). Days of water falling from the sky with a break here or there, but rarely without the moody grey clouds, meant not a lot of chores were accomplished well. I truly feel for those who regularly experience northern winters or typical Pacific Northwest seasons, seasonal depression is real and daunting in constant shades of grey!

Although there’s always a farm to-do list a mile long, constant rain can add to the list quickly. The ever-reliable construction of our chicken coop was tested as water dripped into nesting boxes through a leaky roof. A complete re-do is required to replace water warped plywood and hole-y metal sheeting…this time with an extra barrier of Tyvek to keep the water at bay. The pasture is a mud pit where the animals walk frequently, so bales of straw and shovels of mulch are needed to keep the thick, boot-pulling mud tempered.

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Thankfully Manny’s hooves are staying healthy despite the constant damp. His velvety winter coat is divine!

The chickens are FINALLY exiting their long winter/molting break. I had to purchase store eggs for almost 3 months, but now we are again enjoying 3-4 daily eggs regularly. It is time again to process a couple of our older hens whose production has forever decreased to be able to make room for young layers (and fill our freezer with farm fresh meat).

The constant rainfall does have some benefits, and we have been trying to take advantage of the rare sunny days and wet ground to plant more edibles around the property. For the first time ever I was excited about black Friday shopping…there was a big sale on blueberry bushes at an online nursery, so I quickly carted 8 plants and checked out in my pajamas!

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The spindly young plant on the left doesn’t look like much, but it joins 7 other new blueberry plants I hope will thrive! On the right is 1 of 3 pecan saplings, a lovely gift from a friend that will be added to our orchard area

Most of any sunny free time lately has been devoted to helping my friend fence in a new pasture area that will be the “honeymoon suite” for our goats. The bucks live on her property in a bachelor pen, and we will transport my does the short distance between us to divide them up for breeding. I miss having baby goats frolicking our acreage, and can’t wait to see what the babies from our chosen couplings will look like!

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The new area fencing just lacks some simple clipping to be complete, the shelter walls will be attached and secured, and then…cue the mood music!

Putting up a fence is definitely a good total body workout, and digging post holes can wear out even the most established athelete, but even the kids have helped to complete the project. They purchased their own does last year, and have been excited about the income opportunities of breeding and selling livestock offspring. They weren’t as excited about the fence work as the possible dollar signs, but we talked about how work (sowing) is required to be able to benefit monetarily (reaping).

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Josiah helping to secure the fence so his doe can spend some time with a buck to ensure a Spring full of new baby kids

I’m looking forward to the next several weeks as we continue to plan farm expansions. Hopefully the sun will cooperate!

It’s Fall Y’all (right?)

Our Indian summer, with 90° days in September, took a sudden turn when November came to call. The Farmers Almanac predicted we’d have a cold, wet 2018 winter, but winter usually doesn’t come around until January. This year it arrived hard and fast, with lots of rain and cool temps that have me running inside for a thick blanket to snuggle under! I do look forward to an excuse to be indoors more as I take back up my “old lady hobby” of crocheting…this year I’m honing my skills and diving into a more challenging project. I hope to add an entry about the gorgeously teal, long cardigan currently under construction very soon!

As I’ve written before ( Multiplying Additions ), our home addition is coming along…slowly. Between our unconventional timeline and the fact that we are living in our active construction zone, we’ve had several opportunities to remind ourselves “we’ll laugh about this…some day.” We recently had our roof decking completed and shingles placed, along with a layer of waterproof house wrap. Water (our arch nemesis in construction land) is kept outside the structure, and it looks less like the awkward green gingerbread house of previous months.

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Yes, that is frost already breaking in the brand new shingles!

Under the wrap the window spaces are cut out and I love standing inside the structure picturing what will go where as this chilly wood cavern becomes our home. Windows, brick, and HVAC are next steps as we move ahead to creating livable space asap!

The animals have had to quickly adjust to the cold snap, and while baby goat kids are the absolute cutest critter on the farm, even adult goats look adorably cuddly fluffed out with their winter coats.

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This is the same goat! Marigold was scrawny when she came to us this past Spring. With good goat nutrition and her healthy winter goat growing in, she’s soft as cashmere

Currently I’m helping my friend construct a “honeymoon suite” on her acreage to allow my does access to bucks housed in our Billy goat grotto on her property. A week or two away with a buck will ensure a new crop of baby goat goodness next Spring!

Did you know that farm fresh eggs are naturally seasonal? Unfortunately we’ve arrived into the time of year that brings frustration to chicken farmers: shorter days (daylight triggers laying hormones), molting (chickens shed and regrow their feathers annually in late summer/early Fall), and the cold temps mean we’ve collected ZERO eggs the past month. I balk at buying cartons from the store, but remind myself the “girls” earn their keep the rest of the year and deserve a bit of a break. However, it does help me come to terms with sending non laying hens out for processing, and adding young layers our flock. We may get attached to our favorite hens, but I’m grateful to have humanely raised, cage free organic meat for my family AND eggs for most of the year.

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June and Dolly have helped winterize my garden beds by clearing out and tilling the soil. Pumpkins are a treat that brings them running!

Our Thanksgiving break has brought welcome time spent with loved ones, a slower pace around the farm, and excuses to dive into crafts and hobbies. Although the kids’ schedules will pick back up at full throttle heading into the longer Christmas holiday break, my favorite time of year soothes with delectable treats and festive get-togethers.

I look forward to sharing my favorite winter recipes with you soon!

Autumn Daydreams

Today is the fourth day of October here in the heart of Dixie, and summer is holding on tight. Temps are still topping out in the 90s with high humidity, and this cold weather-loving gal is suffering! If “hangry” describes frustration due to hunger, I’m “heatangry” or “angrot”…grumpy due to high temps and heat. The best parts of summer are gone: kids are back in school, pools are closed, the garden has fizzled out, and major pasture construction is complete. Winter tends to be a rest and planning phase on the farm, and I’m ready to snuggle under a thick blanket, break out my crocheting supplies and conquer all the projects ideas I’ve collected, while plotting plans for next Spring’s planting, herd expansions, and new farm additions (honey bees!). But alas, thick blankets are smothering in record heat, and I can’t get motivated to churn out winter accessories while still donning tank tops and shorts. We’ve also had quite the unwelcome excitement recently: my husband discovered that our horse has amazing top speeds in open acreage, but he hasn’t finessed the braking system on our living sports car. The hubs ended up in the emergency room and then the hospital after requiring surgery to repair a compound arm fracture. We also discovered that while the prospect and progress of our home addition is exciting ( Multiplying Additions ), having an unfinished structure connected to our current living area means we experience rain water containment problems in real time. Our kitchen ceiling is currently in disrepair due to a waterfall navigating it’s way indoors. Add sick kids to the list of woes, and, needless to say, a lot of plans and projects have been put on the backburner for the foreseeable future.

Today was the first day I had a couple of hours free to stay home, and since I’ve only accomplished the bare minimum in caring for the farm critters over the last few weeks, I happily pulled on my muckboots to scrub the troughs, change out bedding, and fence around pasture trees (the goats seem to like to eat bark more in colder weather, and killed a tree in their zealous feasting last year). It was nice to get some fresh air and really look over the herd and flock to be sure everyone was well. I’m pleased that Rosie and her twin brother Sunny have recovered completely from their anemia ( Goat Down! ). As the goats settled in the shade to work their cud after a morning of grazing, I sat down with them and scratched ears and bellies. I noticed Poppy hovered nearby, curious but skittish. She’s always been too scared to come close, and it’s only been after weeks of treating the group that she has finally started to come near. Poppy was part of the rescue herd we brought home in April. Most of the herd was in very poor shape, and I was considering culling Poppy because she was skeletal, mangy, and had a prominent underbite (which, if passed down to her babies, could cause feeding problems). But because we use our herd to bush hog our woods and she seemed to be able to eat well,  I decided she could live out her days (however long that might be) on our property.

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Pic on the left is Poppy after she had been with us a couple of weeks and was looking a bit better. Pic on the right is Poppy now, fat and sassy!

Fast forward nearly 6 months: her coat is thick and shiny and I was convinced she would kid (give birth) any day. Turns out…she is just fat! And very happy♡

Because the herd was previously kept with a buck I was told they were all probably bred. However, too unhealthy to get/stay pregnant, we have passed the 150 day gestation mark, and I’m now sure all the does are not pregnant. The new girls have filled out nicely and we have corrected their parasite issues and nutritional deficiencies! This is great news as I like to breed my does in November so that they drop kids 5 months later when Spring is in full swing and vegetation is abundant for lactating nannies. I had been concerned that because of their health deficiencies, the new herd, if bred, may have sickly babies, or issues post partum. Now that they have had 6 months to get healthy I’m more confident we’ll have a successful kidding next year. I had thought that even if Poppy survived I wouldn’t breed her, but she has filled out so well that I think her underbite was pronounced because of malnutrition. I have been encouraged by other goat breeders that she could drop very healthy kids, especially if bred to a sire with no bite issues. Our bucks are very handsome guys, and as I decide which does will honeymoon with each lucky male, I look forward to seeing the babies next Spring.

In the meantime, I’ll be praying for cooler temps, waterproof roofs, and recovered family!

What are your winter plans? My crockpot needs new comfort food recipes, and I’m looking forward to sharing new dishes soon!

Goat Down!

When I was a kid I decided pretty emphatically that I would be a nurse or a teacher when I grew up. In high school, after volunteering at the hospital and nursing homes, my mind was set…I wanted to enter the medical field as an RN. Clinical rotations through hospital units helped me decide what I truly enjoyed…and what I definitely did not (I have major respect for ER and ICU nurses, as I was not called for those intense cases). I got in my licks as a medical/surgical nurse (my professors insisted the experience would benefit my skills immensely), and later transferred to Mother/Baby, working my dream job until I had my own babies at home and abandoned 13 hour shifts for the 24/7 shifts of motherhood. Although I still exercise my RN license very part time as an instructor at the hospital, I’ve found that I now regularly put my skills to use weekly on family members, and now on our farm critters as well.

When we started our hobby farm with a small flock of chickens we had no health issues for the first year. I was thankful that I had time to learn their basic care without emergency situations. I read about common poultry ailments, and carefully took precautions to be sure their environment was proactive in keeping them well. But as we added more birds, expanded the flock and the run, we had the unfortunate experiences of predator attacks. My first aid skills were put to the test as we successfully (and sadly, sometimes unsuccessfully) provided wound care and rehab to hurt birds (Predator Attack! ). I exercised surgical skills as I treated advanced bumblefoot affecting one of the girls, and she recovered beautifully.

When we added goats to our menagerie, they were very low maintenace. Hearty and low key, we had no issues until a mystery illness quickly took the life of one of our favorite does (Joy Comes in the Morning ). Thankfully, no others were affected.

Earlier this year I added several goats to our herd. Both groups came from rescue-type situations…the owners did not have the space and means to care for them properly. I’m thankful they knew the goats needed a better home, but unfortunately it has meant we’ve had experiences with issues directly related to the previous care. Don’t get me wrong, I understand not everyone can have multiple acres of perfect goat fodder, but I liken it to keeping a penguin as a pet here in the Deep South: you CAN do it, but it’s going to take a lot of extra care and finances to keep them healthy. Goats kept in smaller spaces without natural wooded fodder are more prone to internal worms and other contagious diseases and require more money spent on feed and supplements to ensure proper nutrition. Our challenge with the rescue goats has been getting them recovered from lack of proper feeding and care. Alabama is naturally deficient in copper and selenium, and goats need more copper than other livestock to stay healthy. Adequate copper not only helps their outward appearance, but also protects them from internal worms (copper kills internal parasites). If goats are able to get the nutrients in the plants they forage, that is ideal, but our goats needed lots of help.

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The top picture is Candy when we first brought her home very copper deficient. The rough, rusty coat is a giveaway. After a bolus, her coat looked like the bottom picture within weeks)

Copper boluses are little copper rods that sit in the rumen of the goat and slowly dissolve, giving the goat the nutrient over time.

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Because our area is copper deficient, once bolused I provide free choice loose minerals to keep their levels where needed.

Unfortunately, I know more as I’ve studied goats more, and realized I should’ve dewormed the new members as soon as I got them home. Because of their deficiencies they struggle with parasites, and it has been a battle to keep their nutrient levels up while successfully keeping internal worms at bay.  The youngest goats are typically the healthiest, but a few days ago I noticed Rosie ( our hermaphrodite goat ) had a large swollen bump on her jaw and sounded hoarse. My first thought was she was stung or bitten by an insect, but when I posted on a goat forum for advice, bottle jaw was diagnosed. Bottle jaw is a sign of very late stage anemia due to a high worm load. I immediately checked her Famancha score (a way to check livestock for anemia), and she was in fatal range. I had also noticed Sunny had been very lethargic and walked “drunkenly,” and I checked his eyelid as well. Fatal white.

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Famancha scale. An eyelid check for anemia

I immediately followed the forum advice to deworm asap with one medication, and then 12 hours later dewormed with another type to cover all possible parasites. Sunny had the unfortunate side effect of diarrhea after dosing, and because he had already been so weak, I prayed we wouldn’t lose him. It was also recommended I give them a few iron injections in daily succession to help kick start red blood cell replacement. I had a hard time tracking down the staggering kids through the woods, and as frustrated as I was (“Let me help you!”),  I was glad they were still foraging and not laying down. Goats are prey animals, and as a survival mechanism do not show signs of weakness or illness typically until they are at the end of the line. I was thankful they were still interested in foraging all day. Rosie has already pinked up a bit and the lump on her jaw is gone. Sunny is still a bit weak, but I’m hopeful he will turn around as his body, free of parasites, recovers. There is a possibility we will have new kids in the next week (one group of does was with a buck and may be bred). Goat gestation is about 5 months, and I brought those girls home 4 months and 2 weeks ago. It’s marked on my calendar that, kids or not, they will all get another round of meds and copper next week. As they continue to enjoy our acreage I expect they will need less and less intervention as they get back to a more natural state.

Updates soon!

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Rosie about to receive her first iron injection. My nursing skills come in handy with these critters!

Pizza Pizza!

The boys are back in school, and my daughter is anxiously awaiting her turn at the end of the month. Despite the scattered start days, extra curriculars are in full swing, and the oldest two have officially begun their soccer and football seasons. This means we are at a ball field 3 nights a week, and with our mid week church service, Friday is the only evening we have been enjoying a home-cooked meal during the work week. I appreciate that, at the very least, we are sharing every meal together (except my hubby, who scrounges around for leftovers at home), but eating out gets expensive and there are very few places where you can find healthy options. I still follow the clean eating philosophy (read about that HERE), and have added half marathon training to my typical workouts, so I want to be sure I’m not sidelined by our hectic schedule. I’m planning on transitioning to full time crockpot cooking as the weather cools to create healthy dishes like chili and stew that allow several leftover servings and keep well. I’m still enjoying our Emeals subscription as well, and although I don’t plan to cook as many recipes weekly as the summer allows, I do still pull up 2 to 3 options a week.

Pizza is always a kid favorite, and is quick and easy to have delivered to your door, but although we indulge every once in a while I definitely prefer versions that offer more nutrition and less junk. Two of our favorite Emeals versions have made our family’s yum list and stayed in frequent rotation, so I wanted to share those here.

My kids are not picky eaters and choose ethnic restaurants when we treat ourselves to a meal out, so I knew the Pide would be a hit. The Turkish flatbread version of a kid-friendly favorite was love at first bite!

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Whole wheat naan is the perfect vessel for the traditional pide toppings

The chickpea side dish is delicious, and I often make a batch of it separately for a quick, healthy lunch option during the week! The recipe for both is HERE

A more traditional but “cleaned up” version of everyone’s favorite take out is made even more kid-friendly in a dip-able form: pizza quesadillas! Whole wheat tortillas, uncured pepperoni, and organic marinara bring the flavor, and the sky’s the limit for adding your favorite “toppings.” The recipe calls for mushrooms, but we only had black olives on hand, and it was an easy substitution.

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Not your typical school lunch version of pizza and tots! 

Notice the side dish? Those aren’t tater tots doused in hot grease…they’re oven baked broccoli tots. And they’re delicious!

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A mini muffin tin is necessary for these sneaky delicacies, but well worth it

Panko provides the crunch to broccoli and cheese baked up into a crispy bite, and thankfully I doubled the recipe…we all loved them! I used steam-in-the-bag broccoli to make the prep even faster (and saved the time of cleaning a pot), and will definitely bake these often for grab-and-go greens.

The recipe for this dish is HERE

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My kids don’t mind gobbling up their “trees,” but dessert is always welcome…

I’m off for some dark chocolate now myself!

Summer Epilogue

I’ve already noticed the shortening of daylight hours, and every few days there is a hint of a Fall breeze early in the morning. The summer season is winding down, and while I love that the hot weather means garden growth, outdoor fun, and swim dates with family, autumn is definitely my favorite season. My warm-natured genes savor the crisp air, sweaters, and pumpkin-flavored everything!

We’ve been soaking up the long Saturdays without a packed soccer/football/basketball game schedule, and I undertook the largest farm project to date: the building of a new shelter for our goat herd. Before we had our own goats we hosted a friend’s herd on our property, and I marveled at how quickly (within a few hours) she repurposed pallets into a stand alone run-in shelter when they were moved to our acreage. Goats HATE being wet, and although relatively low maintenance otherwise, they do require space to avoid inclement weather. The shelter was meant to be temporary, and once we acquired our own herd (and quickly added to its numbers), I knew I wanted a more permanent structure for the now 11 does and 2 wethers (neutered males) who call our acreage home.

I found a great deal on a load of pallets (I like that they’re structurally sound and are basically ready-built walls), and with a huge scrap/reject pile left over from our house addition build I knew we had adequate lumber. At first I researched and toiled with plans online, but then realized I had a tried-and-true pallet-built plan that was standing the test of time. The chicken coop my dear husband created 3 years previously using pallets was still standing strong, and I thought it would be wise to use a similar style on a larger scale. I purposed to do most of the work myself, as I wanted to learn how to put together a solid structure and glean some basic construction knowledge as we’re constantly surrounded by such progress. Unlike the coop, however, the larger scale meant I did need an extra pair of hands to finish the roof and other heavier labor requiring larger biceps. I also appreciated extra input to be sure the build was as square and level as possible…using warped wood rejected by our home builders was extra challenging! I enjoyed working with my hubby and dad, and can only hope they enjoyed some of the time as well.

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The front and back of the new goat house. Apart from the main structure I added two stalls. 

Once the main portion of the house was finished, I still had plenty of pallets and lumber left over and decided to add on two more “rooms.” These divided stalls can serve as sleeping quarters (goats tend to divide up into family groups at night), a quarantine area for sick goats, or as kidding stalls for does with newborn babies. I decided I should go ahead and add them asap, as a couple of the gals I brought home nearly 5 months ago as part of a rescue group are looking more rotund (goat gestation is around 5 months). I need to get gate doors hung soon to be ready for new additions!

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Inside the main structure I added a simple divider and two sleeping benches. Goats appreciate being up off the ground to rest, and Candy was quick to try one out as soon as it was in place 

Our herd continues to grow as we’ve added back Sunny, Rosie’s twin. When we brought home Daisy, her twins, and Marigold several months ago, we dropped the girls off into our pasture and sent Sunny off to live in the bachelor herd on my friend’s property. I had planned to use him for breeding next year, as his coloring is beautiful, but he had a lot of trouble transitioning. Too small to run with the big bucks, but unrelated to my friend’s does and their kids, he became a misfit of sorts.  Goats are very social animals, and must have a herd to be a part of, but Sunny never found his place and cried often throughout the days. My patient friend finally asked if we could move him back, and I decided to have him castrated so he could join our herd. I prayed he would fit in better with the smaller breeds we own, and thought that maybe he could even become friends with his long lost sister, but what actually happened was beyond my hope! He cried when we placed him in our pasture, as the other goats were off foraging in the woods, and he soon was answered back by Daisy, his mom! She came running back from the woods calling to him, and he happily followed her to join the herd. After 4 months of separation Daisy not only accepted him as a herd mate, but as her baby! I consider this a miracle of sorts, because typically when animals are separated for an extended time they don’t recognize each other when reunited. I’ve heard goats have longer memories, but the fact that Daisy answered his cry as his mother was astonishing.

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Sunny is much happier chomping through the woods with his family 

Our garden produced well, thriving in fertile soil, except for our tomato plants. Typically a boon despite how the other crops fare, I noticed my tomatoes were slow to reach maturity this year. It seems to be a widespread issue amongst fellow gardeners in the area, and I suspect our very wet planting season may have stunted the plant’s production early on. Now that our cucumber and zucchini plants have flourished and are spent for the season, I moved fencing around to again allow the chickens access to the garden area.

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Kitty and his hens were quite happy to be allowed back in the garden beds, and I’m happy to have them clean up the area and begin the prep work for next year 

Our laying rates have stayed surprising steady despite the heat, but I’ve begun to notice piles of feathers about, a sign that my birds are entering into their yearly molt. Hens don’t typically lay while molting, so I assume our egg collection will drop in the coming weeks.

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Poor Bitty is having a dramatic molt! Hens do not lay during this time so that their body can put all its energy into feather production

School has started back, and as the extra curricular schedule ramps up I look forward to settling into a resting phase around the farm as I become a full time chauffeur. I’m amazed at how much more tired I am keeping up with my older kids and their activities! Babies may mean sleepless nights, but they’re also homebodies compared to their tweenage selves, and I now long for a day or two at home during the week without an activity, event, appointment, or lesson. We love every minute of the whirlwind, but we also are quite ready for sleep once bedtime rolls around!

Are you looking forward to a change in seasons? What is your favorite?

 

 

Summer Sweat

We may have only officially entered into summer a week or so ago, but in the Heart of Dixie the heat and humidity start knocking way before the calendar dictates that the hottest season has arrived. This week has produced high heat index days, and we are grateful for air conditioning! Even before 7am sweat pours off my forehead as I pluck the day’s harvest and make sure the animals have plenty of cool water to get through the heat of the day.

In my previous post ( Slow Burn ) I mentioned that after a couple of years of puny plants and a lack of fruit, this year I was sure to take advantage of the natural fertilizer from our chickens, goats and horse to enrich the beds throughout the winter. We have experienced great success with just that addition: the zucchini are full and taller than my youngest son, the cucumbers cannot be contained within their beds, and the upcoming tomatoes and watermelon seem quite happy in their “new” soil.

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I love “shopping” my backyard…this was my haul one morning, and in another week or so I’ll add tomatoes and watermelon to that armload!

Along with the garden bounty, I’m so happy to see our animals flourishing as well. Several of the newer members of our goat herd had a few issues due to a lack of proper nutrition: “fish tails” (the goats will loose hair from their tails so that it resembles the shape of a fish) from lack of copper, internal worms, drab coats, and underweight bodies. After correcting the issues I could with necessary medications and boluses, and allowing the goats access to their ideal forage and mineral supplements, I’m so pleased to watch their body conditions improve so well! Fuller, healthy figures, soft and silky coats, and content bellies are such a reward!

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Bless her heart, Poppy may not win any beauty contests, but she’s good at being a goat! 

Poppy (pictured above) was probably the worst off of the group. Fish tailed and skinny, she even lost most of her coat due to mites! She looked very rough (and naked!) for a couple of weeks as I tried to treat her (she is very skittish and won’t allow anyone near her), but as I looked her over today I noticed that her new coat is growing in thick and shiny! Although I likely won’t be breeding her in the future (if passed on to her kids, that underbite can cause feeding problems in a young goat that can be fatal), she is a fantastic natural bush hog, and as the herd continues to munch their way through our acreage I expect them to develop a natural immunity to intestinal worms and other issues caused by inappropriate nutrtion.  I’m also excited that their improved health will mean healthy pregnancies and healthy kids next spring!

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Baby Cloud is now about 4 months old and loves to have her ears scratched. I can’t wait for another round of kids!

The heat of the summer knocks our laying rates off of their peak, but we are still getting several eggs a day from the chicken gals. I expect that number to drop again though as the chickens naturally go through their annual molt. As they lose and regrow their feathers over several weeks they stop laying, but I don’t blame them for taking a break in the heat…it’s a good time of year to be bald! Two of our hens have taken a break from laying, but for a very different reason…they are broody! The heat seems to trigger a natural desire in some hens to feel quite motherly, and they will spend the day laying atop any eggs in the nesting boxes, stubbornly camping out and incubating any beneath them. This causes a problem for my middle son, who is usually quite happy to help with animal chores and collects the eggs every evening. Broody hens can be quite adamant about their egg protecting duties, and our Penny hen is very onery. Elijah has to wear gloves to protect his hands from her beak as he lifts her away to collect the eggs beneath her. She puffs up and clucks loudly, admonishing his audacity to remove “her” clutch. Dolly hen has also become broody this year, and although less disagreeable, the issue becomes that the two nesting boxes are filled with two broody hens who barely tolerate their coop sisters squeezing in beside them to lay their daily egg. Squabbles can cause the eggs to crack, and the younger hens are now finding it easier to lay beneath the boxes or around the coop. This is not ideal, as the eggs are more prone to be eaten by curious flock mates or crushed. We haven’t allowed Penny to hatch a clutch because my run set-up isn’t conducive to keeping newborn chicks safe, and, honestly, when we’re already short on room in the coop AND eggs due to molt, we’d rather have as many eggs as possible ready for breakfast!

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Poor Penny, maybe some day we can allow her to hatch some chicks in a safe run

I’m still collecting materials for a new goat “mansion” and the kids have been helping me complete other chores around the property to earn trips to the movie theater, a welcome reward in the heat of the day!

How do you escape the heat?

 

 

Slow Burn

We had a relatively mild Spring here in the heart of Dixie, but summer is comin’ in hot as we’ve entered June. As I’ve expanded my outdoor projects over the years, I’ve learned that those who have any manual labor required outdoors in the heat of a southern summer seem to fall into the same trends: get as much done as early as possible, pace yourself through the heat, and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! I get outside as soon as possible before any morning coolness evaporates, and save my indoor chores for afternoon when the air conditioning is dearly welcomed.

The garden is growing in better than it has in years, and I attribute the success to my natural little tiller/fertilizers, those hard-working feathered friends that also provide our breakfasts. The chickens utilized their winter garden access well, and with a little extra help from the horse too the soil in the beds was healthier than ever. Within just a couple of weeks the zucchini plants are waist-high to my youngest, and the bright yellow blossoms happily announce the the upcoming boon of my favorite summer veggie. My “famous” honeyed zucc bread is not afar off! (Find the recipe HERE)

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The happy zucchini plants are in the center bed, flanked by content cucumbers, tomatoes, and watermelon

I recently had a local tree service dump a huge pile of mulch near our garden and pasture. Our symbiotic relationship is a win/win! The tree guys appreciate being able to dump their “waste” near their job sites (instead of hauling it to a commercially-approved site), and I love the *free* compostable ground cover. I spread it around the raised garden beds for weed control, and in the chicken run and horse pasture to help soak up any standing water during rainy weeks. It also provides an organic layer in the chicken run that tempts bugs and grubs closer to the ground surface where the chickens can scratch for tasty protein snacks. The wood mulch also slowly breaks down into soil itself, adding nutrients as it degrades. Before you’re tempted to put a call into your local tree trimmers though, natural mulch is not something you want too near your house…organic, untreated wood is universally loved by termites, and they are definitely not a critter you want to attract to your foundation!

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The chickens are disappointed to be cut off from the garden beds for the summer, so I’m sure to treat them with greenery as I clear around the beds

I also noticed that several other summer treats around the farm are nearing ripeness as well!

Blueberries, wild blackberries, and muscadine grapes are enjoying the longer days and sunlight to perfect their sweetness! My plan this Fall is to add several more blueberry bushes along the fence line where our current two are thriving, to ensure we harvest more than the birds. I also noticed our pawpaw fruit trees seem to be doing well, diffusing a yummy banana scent into the backyard air.

The goats are enjoying the forage and shade provided by wooded acreage, and the latest additions to our herd are now thriving. Scrawny bodies and coarse coats have transitioned into healthy, happy goats with their preferred grazing fodder, minerals, and dewormer for those that were the worst off. It’s been a joy to watch the furry gals regain their luster.

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Queen Candy rests on her throne after a morning of chomping through the woods. Weeks ago I could feel her hip and rib bones too easily through her skin. Now she has a healthy layer of flesh and a luster to her coat.

I’m currently researching plans to build a new pasture shelter for the goats using the lumber leftover from our recent house addition ( Multiplying Additions ). I’m hoping to add several “rooms” to the new build, with space for feed and tack storage. Our current shelter (and chicken coop) were created from repurposed pallets, and because the price was right (free!), I plan to collect more to use as the foundation for the new structure. I’m excited to get started!

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After grazing in the cool of the morning the lady goats gather in the shade to escape the heat of the day 

It’s not all work on the farm that fills the sunniest days…the kiddos and I are sure to take time to cool off with popsicles and swim dates with friends! What are your favorite summer activities?