Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Final Four

With the NCAA men’s basketball field released today, this seemed an appropriate title.  And because our goat herd stands at four as of this past week, “The Final Four” seems an even more appropriate – timely, anyway – title.  So, no this post is not about basketball; rather, goats.

Three years ago, we decided we wanted to get goats.  We ended up connecting with a friend of a friend who wanted to liquidate his small herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats.  So in April 2012 we suddenly found ourselves with a mama goat (Cinnamon) and her three kids (Sugar, a female who had been born the previous year) and Merry and John (twins who were several months old).  John was an extremely skittish buck, while Cinnamon and her girls were more social.  We turned John into a wether (read: we castrated him) with the hope he’d settle down a bit.  He didn’t, and we ended up giving him to our farmer friend Mr. Woodward, who really wanted a goat to add diversity to his farm.  (Unfortunately, John was killed by either a roaming dog or a coyote shortly after arriving at Mr. Woodward’s farm.)  Sugar turned out to be not so sweet, and we ultimately gave her back to the man from whom we initially acquired her.  That left Cinnamon and Merry, who we attempted to have bred in the spring of 2013.  They were boarded at a local farm for a couple of cycles (you know what I mean), but didn’t end up pregnant. 

Akea with Merry, Cinnamon, and Sugar in the goats' early days at the farm.
John.  He was a pretty goat, but not too fond of people.
In the fall of 2013, we ended up acquiring three more Nigerian Dwarf does: Bailey, Clove, and Clove’s baby – err, kid – Spot, along with another doe (Clove’s older doe offspring) who we immediately gave to Mr. Woodward.  Bailey turned out to be a sweetheart, while Clove and Spot lacked in social skills.  That winter, we boarded Mr. Woodward’s buck, who the kids dubbed “Stinky” – if you’ve ever been around a buck, you understand their choice of moniker! – along with the doe we had purchased for Mr. Woodward.  Stinky made Merry his girlfriend (again, you know what I mean), but showed little interest in the other does.

Bailey has never met a person she doesn't like -- especially the guy who feeds her.  Clove is the goat with the large horns, and Spot is barely visible in the bottom right corner.
A better photo of Spot.
Our heifer Rachael had no problem spending the winter with "Stinky" (the white goat) and the other goats.
It turned out Bailey had been pregnant when we got her, as she gave birth in January 2014 in a quite eventful way.  Bailey is a rather petite girl and was, it turns out, too small to give birth naturally.  After consulting with our neighbor vet friend, who inspected Bailey and said she was not going to be able to deliver naturally and would die without proper vet care, we drove Bailey over an hour to a livestock vet late that night so the vet could perform a C-section and save Bailey’s life.  Bailey came through the procedure just fine; her baby, a doe we named Louisa, was miraculously alive (the vet said she wouldn’t be) following the C-section.  Unfortunately, Bailey rejected her baby and our best efforts to help Louisa thrive failed.  We followed the vet’s advice to get Louisa euthanized less than 72 hours after she was born.  That was tough to do, as we all quickly became attached to the little thing.

Bailey and Louisa.  Notice the shaved patch on Bailey's fur, as well as her scar from the C-section.
We all loved Louisa.
It turned out Clove had also been pregnant when we got her.  She gave birth in February 2014 to a buck we turned into a wether and named McLaws and a doe we named Andora.  Both thrived incredibly well!  Clove underwent a transformation from skittish to tolerant bordering on friendly and was a great mama!  Nonetheless, we gave her to one of Mr. Woodward’s friends, who wanted a doe.  By the beginning of April, Clove had moved to her new home and Mr. Woodward’s buck and doe had returned to his farm.  We were left with Cinnamon, Bailey, McLaws, Andora, and, as it turns out, a pregnant Merry.  Our herd of five was getting ready to grow to eight!
Andora, McLaws, and Clove the day the babies were born.  Yes, they were sleeping standing up.
On April 17 of last year, Merry became a first-time mama, giving birth to not one, not two, but three babies!  We named the two bucks (who we turned into wethers) Little John and Gremlin, and the little doe Nutmeg.  As had been the case with McLaws and Andora, a farmer friend came over to disbud the babies, meaning they would not grow horns.  Merry impressively nursed all three babies and they thrived.  Also like McLaws and Andora, the triplets developed sweet and loving personalities, and were very fond of humans (including kids!).
Merry and her triplets (Nutmeg is pressed against her mama and has her head on Gremlin, while Gremlin is leaning on his brother Little John) very shortly after the babies were born.
Merry and her babies (clockwise from bottom, Nutmeg, Little John, and Gremlin) at about a week of age.
In the past week, we made the tough decision to reduce the size of our goat herd.  Simply stated, eight goats were too much to handle.  They’re essentially pets, as we’re not using them for milk or raising them for meat.  They’re great for weed control, but it’s a hassle to move so many goats around to the areas that need their attention.  We decided four goats is a manageable number and selling four would be a good way to bring our goat expenses closer to green than deep red.  We decided to sell McLaws and Andora as a pair and Cinnamon and Merry as a pair.  McLaws and Andora joined three does at an area farm on Wednesday; Cinnamon and Merry left Saturday morning to become the first goats at a local family’s farm.  We feel good all four are in good hands.  And we also feel much better about our four-goat situation.  Bailey, Little John, Gremlin, and Nutmeg already seem so much more relaxed.  Or maybe I’m confusing how I think they feel with how we feel.  Whatever the case, four goats is plenty!
It was difficult saying goodbye to McLaws and Andora...
...and especially Cinnamon and Merry.
Oh, and I’m picking Kentucky, Arizona, Duke, and Virginia in the Final Four, with Virginia over Kentucky in the national title game.  Sorry, I had to throw that in there.

- Byron

Thursday, March 5, 2015


I started to title this post "Cows," but that would have been a bit inaccurate.  A cow, of course, is a female bovine that has had a baby.  Or maybe that's not accurate either, given many farmers call female cattle that have had only one calf "first-calf heifers."  So with this said, maybe the title should be "A Cow, Two First-Calf Heifers, Three Heifers, and a Pair of Steers."  Or...  Never mind.  The point is to put a fitting title in place and that has been accomplished, albeit in a non-catchy way.

To date, we've now had 16 different cattle at the farm.  It all began with the Holstein steers we raised back in 2011.  We then got a black Angus cow and her heifer calf two years ago.  In September 2013, the mama cow (the kids named her Flower) had a bull calf, which we gave to family friend Mr. Woodward as a thanks for all he has done for us.  In the spring of last year, we sold Flower to Mr. Woodward, after he had kept her for the winter so she could be bred by his bull.  Flower was a bit too aggressive for my taste and Mr. Woodward really wanted her.  She's since had another baby.

Flower and her bull calf in the fall of 2013.  Just look at her eyes; you can tell she doesn't like me!
We also purchased my friend Melvin's two old cows and their steers in September 2013.  The steers were not weaned and our attempt to wean them resulted in serious damage to our hoop house.  (The steers went THROUGH the hoop house to get to their mamas!)  We decided to sell the steers at market; they weighed 755 and 815 pounds -- way too big to still be nursing!  The cows had been with a bull into the spring of 2013 and we hoped they were pregnant; however, as nine months from the time they had been with the bull came and went, it was obvious the cows were not pregnant.  As we hit December, we decided they were too old to have bred and that it wasn't worth it to feed the large ladies hay throughout the winter.  Off to market the cows went.  They weighed 1,605 and 1,210 pounds.  Big!

Cinnamon and Merry inspect the new arrivals in September 2013 -- two cows and two big steers.
The cows we bought from Melvin were friendly enough -- especially if you had a treat for them.  (In this instance, they were lured in by an alfalfa cube.)

We still have Flower's heifer -- the kids named her Rachael -- who is now nearly two-and-a-half years old.  She's been spending this winter at Mr. Woodward's with his herd, including a bull; as she's been there since September, Rachael should have her first calf in June or July.  (So will Rachael become a cow or a first-calf heifer?)  As we bottle-fed Rachael and have always been very hands-on with her, she has a great disposition and I'm really looking forward to having her home in the next month or so.  Hopefully she hasn't adopted her mama's disposition!

Rachael at Mr. Woodward's farm in December.  She should have been about three months pregnant when this photo was taken.

We also purchased six black Angus cattle this past December from a farm in a neighboring county: a three- or four-year-old cow, two two-year-old cows (or first-calf heifers, or whatever!), a young heifer, and two young steers.  As they all came with numbered ear tags, we just call them by their numbers (instead of giving them proper names).  So, we have #15 (the cow), #14 and #10 (the first-calf heifers), #1 (the young heifer, who is still nursing her mama, #10), and #5 and #6 (the steers).  On January 20, #15, who we were almost certain was pregnant when we bought her, had a heifer calf (the kids named her Cedar, as she was born under a cedar tree).  So, we now have seven cattle at the farm, plus Rachael who is just a couple of miles away at Mr. Woodward's.  We're definitely going to sell some of the cattle in the fall and will post more on that later.  For now, we're waiting to see if #14 is pregnant (she looks it), as well as #10.  Yes, we need to wean #1 off of #10, but are waiting for the grass to start growing before doing so.  We just hope the hoop house doesn't once again become a victim!  - Byron

The six cattle we brought home in December settled in right away.  They were with a rather large herd at the farm from which they came, so having more room was, I'm sure, a pleasant change for them.  #15 is furthest to the left.  She's the most friendly of the bunch and will almost definitely be one we still have next year at this time.
#15 with her baby, Cedar, immediately after she was born on December 11.
Cedar at nearly two weeks old.

I'm back...

... sort of.  Actually, this is Byron.  With Laura back at work full-time for the past couple of years, time for blog posts had all but disappeared.  We've been talking about it lately and have decided to work together to try and start posting with some degree of frequency.  Much has changed at the farm in the past nearly two years (one year, 359 days, to be exact) since Laura last posted, but much remains the same as well.  It's our desire to try and bring our farm to life in the posts to follow and give you a vicarious farming experience, if that's what your seeking -- or, at a minimum, a window into our world at Green Legacy Farm.  Given we both work full time and continue to follow pursuits that take us off the farm with more frequency than should occur for a truly sustainable farming experience, it's probably fitting the photo accompanying this post was taken this past fall in Colonial Williamsburg, 100 miles away from the farm.  But, appropriately enough, there are cattle (American Milking Devons) in the background, if you look closely.  On behalf of Laura, Akea, and Charlie, welcome back!  - Byron

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Long Winter, Version 3.06.13

Last week we were doused with snow and the power companies were doused with power outages.  It was the first time in almost three years that we had an outage for more than a few minutes, which is pretty remarkable given the wind and rain storms that have swept our area.  During the time we were out of power, we kept commenting on how it would not have phased Byron's great-grandparents, who built this house and didn't have power until well into the 20th century.  And during their long lives, they never had indoor plumbing! 

I question how we, as a family, can become a little less dependent.  We are totally dependent, as a society, on power, whether that comes in the form of electricity, gas, or what have you.  Even if you have a generator, you need to fuel it with something.  And eventually, that something is going to run out. 

***End of public service announcement for the coming Apocalypse***

Anyway...though we don't have a generator (yet), we are blessed to have a woodstove.  And we were very blessed that it was cold enough outside to store our food in a cooler on the porch, being that a refrigerator, if left unopened, will keep food for about 12 hours.  A freezer will keep food for about 48 hours, but power was back on before we had to worry about losing everything.

And even though our neighbors graciously offered to let us come over and get water, Byron had a lot of fun melting snow for the animals:

And the animals had no idea anything was amiss!

Rachael, who is now weaned, and Flower, who has been ingloriously renamed "The Rectangle" due to her girly figure, are good to go as long as there's hay around.

We're still using the hen house for hay storage, but will soon put the chickens out on pasture.

The Rectangle in all her snowy glory.
And as a side note, I have an update on my wild-yeast caught sourdough bread: success!  However, I'm back to using the starter my friend gave me because it has a lot more flavor.  The microbes I caught were a bit on the bland side.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Counter Science & Sourdough

Many of you know that for several years I've been milling my own grain in my Nutrimill and baking my own bread.  While this has had great health benefits for our family and kept us from eating copious amounts of refined (read: nutrient-void) flour, a while back I began stressing about phytic acid.  You can read all about my little dilemma here

A friend of mine recently let me borrow Jessie Hawkins' Vintage Remedies Guide to Bread.  The book is choc full of information on how ancient cultures baked, the advent of baker's yeast during the industrial revolution, and yes, phytic acid.  Hawkins' well-researched claim is that ancient cultures baked using starters containing microbes caught from the air, or in layman's terms, sourdough.  No baker's yeast involved, and the loooong rising times break down the detrimental effects of my old friend, phytic acid. 

Oh, and it tastes amazing.  Even to Byron, who hates sourdough.

But wait!  Before you go away, don't get turned off by loooong rising times.  Because guess what?  There is very little kneading and almost no dough babysitting involved!  Most of her recipes consist of mixing the ingredients, shoving the bowl into a corner overnight, putting the dough in pans in the morning, shoving the pans back into the corner, and baking the bread around dinner time.  That's pretty much it, I promise.

It sounds too good to be true, but it is.  And it is my answer to baking while working outside the home full-time.

You didn't honestly think I was going to start patronizing Monsanto, did you??

Anyway, buy the book.  And then procure some starter.  Another friend graciously gave me some starter she had bought online.  Hawkins also gives EASY directions on catching your own microbes (i.e., making your own starter), so I thought I'd give that a go:

You want to leave it as open as possible, but since we have ladybugs zooming around the house and waking my terrified kids up at night, I covered my experiment with cheese cloth.

And it is...bubbling!!  After 48 hours!  This is a good sign.
Hawkins writes about how starters caught in different regions of the world will give you different results.  For instance, San Francisco has some rockin' microbes, because they're famous for their sourdough.  This starter I'm trying smells differently than the one my friend gave me, probably because it's catching southern microbes.

And the South is famous for cornbread, not sourdough.  But it costs me pennies to try...

So why not?

Update on my Nutrimill: I had to have the motor replaced over Christmas.  Convenient, I know.  But since all I had to pay was shipping, I was pleased with their customer service.  I did read more recently, however, that the Wondermill kicked the Nutrimill's butt in a test that ran the mills until the motors burned out.  Granted, the article wasn't scientific, peer-reviewed, etc., etc., but a bit of food for thought, nonetheless, if you are shopping for a grain mill.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

From Hens to Hay: Why I Love Multi-Purpose Structures

Remember the hen house we built last summer?  You know, the one I neglected to post final photos of?  Well, here it is, six months later, and filled with...

Hay. (Yes, we cleaned it out!)

The side pictured above is for human access.  In the fall we put plastic over the chicken wire to keep the hens cozy during the night.  But in the summer, the chicken wire at each end helps with ventilation.

Other side, with small door for chicken access.

Interior view.  I think we can fit eleven bales of hay in the center aisle.  Notice the roosts and egg boxes.  There are roost bars on the other side of the aisle, as well.

We've pulled it up right next to the garden, where the chickens are spending the winter.  They share a divided hoop house with the bovines, one of whom eats copious amounts of hay (I'm talking to you, Flower).
Storing the hay in the hen house for the winter accomplishes two things.  First, since it is mobile, we can hook it up to the tractor, drag it over to the barn, load it up, and drag it back to the garden, saving us time and work.  Secondly, it saves us from building a structure closer to the winter quarters in order to store hay.  And this is why I love multi-purpose structures.

Any other ideas out there for multi-purpose farm structures?  One of our next projects will be to build a larger cow shelter on skids.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Who Needs Video Games?

"When I was  kid, all I needed to entertain myself was a stick and a string!" 

Maybe my kids really will use that line on their grandkids.  Check out their most recent creation, made in the dead of winter:



Sticks and strings.  Proud of my kids' creativity.  Made by Akea, checked for safety by Byron.