Begin Again

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

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


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

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

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

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

We Want Your Dead Trees

In a few days I will be putting a sign out at the street that reads: We want your “used” Christmas trees!

Trevor was heavily against this idea at first, sighting his own theory that millions of people out here in Mountain Ranch (which, by the way, is in the middle of nowhere) will dump their tinsel-filled, crappy trees at our doorstep. I assured him that free dead trees would really help us build more hügelkultur beds, again… for free. Which, as a poor ass farm, is very important.

My ingenious plan is to put a sign out at the street (and a flyer on the bulletin board at the market, secretly) with an arrow pointing the way to a local spot to dump used up Christmas trees. The time is just right with this being the last week of purpose for holiday evergreenery and people are often loathing the very idea of driving to the dump or having that old tree turning brown out back. I am merely offering a handy, local dirt spot for such trees to retire. I’ll just take these burdensome holiday reminders and put them to good use. *insert maniacal laughter*

Once I have some trees, I will cover them up with dirt and used goat straw (read: poopy straw) and hügels will be born! Trevor brought up the good question of where the dirt to cover these trees would come from. My answer, “the ground.” We already dug an indent of a hole to cover our first hügelkultur. We can dig that same hole deeper and wider to make a mini pond eventually. It is already located in a nice shady spot and on a natural swale that holds water. Bingo! I am keeping optimistic of this idea by using plenty of exclamation points!

Trevor thinks we may get 4 or 5 tree carcasses. I hope for dozens. I need to get this farm in some sort of working order. Get the gears turning. Well, first I have to put the gears in place. Then turn them, then I will have some semblance of a garden to work with. Even if we can’t get the new hügels fenced in, if they are built, they can start storing water or even growing smelly herbs the deer maybe won’t touch. Much.


The Stylish Goat

Everyone has their winter coats… except for Freyja. Heidrun is practically shaggy, Bridgit and Luna have a thick coat coat all over their bodies, but Freyja’s wintery fluff hasn’t quite come in yet. She is also a little skinnier than I’d like. To help her stay warm in the meantime, I pulled out a few of these “upcycled” sweatshirts that my Grandma gave me. I thought it would be more festive for her to wear an “ugly Christmas sweater”, but we work with what we have.

The mustard-colored sweatshirt was out –just not Freyja’s color, hunter green clashed with her eyes, and the plum-colored sweatshirt could have worked, but Freyja wanted something a little more neutral. Grey it is! Now she can accessorize with less effort. That’s always important to us ladies.



After watching her outside for a bit, I turned to Trevor, “She looks like she is ashamed of her new sweater.”
Trevor replied, “Can goats feel ashamed?”
“I don’t know. Look at her.”
Long pause…
“Okay, you’re right, she’s ashamed.”
“But warm!” I added.
“Yeah… She looks ridiculous and warm.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death Farm

If there was ever a time I felt I should bash my head in or give up– or both, it would be today.

Trevor and I do a full farm sweep every few days just to give everyone a thorough wellness check, other than our regular check-ins during feeding and closing times. Yesterday it was the bee’s turn. Usually during the cold and windy months, we give the hive a little knock and listen for the quick buzz of the inhabitants assuring us that they are, in fact, home. This time we had no such luck. After opening up the hive, it was evident that they swarmed due to the same wax moth invasion that Hive #2 suffered from just a month or so ago.

Our rabbits have recently decided to breed again since moving here in March. Last month, Philly give birth to some great looking kits… on the wire and they did not survive. She is usually a fantastic mother so I decided to give her another shot and immediately rebred Philly and one of our other does, Indigo. Tonight, Indigo had her first litter… on the wire. But more so, they were under-developed and stillborn. Not terribly uncommon for a first-time rabbit mother, but certainly disappointing. To prevent another “oops” litter with Philly (who is due in a few days), I have put her in a solid-bottom cage with lots and lots of straw bedding. It is on the small side, but I cannot lose another litter because of these empty headed rabbits.

When I asked the universe for a chance to start fresh in the new year, I didn’t really mean like this. I am frustrated to the point of seriously considering selling off all the rabbits and chickens to start over with new stock. Right now I only have Fruhlingskabine rabbit BUCKS, no Fruhlingskabine rabbit DOES, and I think that these does from other rabbitries just aren’t cutting the mustard because they haven’t been bred for this area and climate and weather and smell. Same with the bees and the chickens.

My new goal in 2015 is to buy and breed for sturdier stock. Wimpy stock is getting me nowhere. I need sturdy, Viking stock or something. I need animals that can lay eggs in the snow, birth their young with rabid predators scratching at the door without so much as batting an eye. I need animals with gnarly scars and battle axes and survivor’s spirit. Animals with strength and resilience.

I am tired of this death farm I’ve been running. It is pretty sad when a bunch of turkeys out in a tarp-covered hoop house are more resilient than the rabbits living in a lush, insulated shed. The rabbits don’t even have bobcats circling them like the turkeys do. Those turkeys are hardcore.

I am now looking for any and all recommendations for animal breeds who are: super resilient, hearty, sturdy, happy, and can withstand extreme temperatures (both heat and cold). First-hand experience only. Wimps need not apply.