Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ready for our close up

Michael got on Woot.com and found a super deal on a hand held video camera. So I am going to entertain myself today by videotaping some of the routine and will put it up on You Tube. It's a busy busy day as I get ready for a road trip to our house in Gatlinburg for some R & R with some friends.

I finished my first sets of knitted coasters using bamboo fibers that I'd feel comfortable selling and put them up on eBay. Already got one set sold (thanks Bonnie!). I'll be taking them with me to the Cooper Young Community Farmers Market this Spring with the idea of selling them as wedding gifts. So it looks like I'll have at least 2 items there even if everything else is a big fat goose egg. I started a baby hat last night. If it works out I'll sell them as well. Scarves galore come Fall of course, but I am concentrating on what's seasonal right now.

The plastic for the greenhouse was dropped in the mail yesterday. I also tripled my pelargonium order after realizing I had nowhere near enough plants to comfortably attempt to propagate them myself. Add the seed order to it and I'll be a busy busy bee in a few weeks time. Ahhh spring! It may be that the first garden is a complete disaster, but I figure it's better than not trying at all!

I've got my materials together to build a vermicompost bin as well, which I plan on doing tonight if all other stuff gets done. But first, it's off to make some movie magic. Eat your heart out, Spielberg! Just as an aside thought I would like to point out that when I misspelled Spielberg it popped up in my spell checker. Now that is what I call famous.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Adventures in Rodeo

Boy was yesterday a PITA. Eliot, our farm helper, was moving some stuff around and left a gate open before leaving the farm to run some errands. Unfortunately the gate he left open was a poor choice indeed as it was to the horse pasture.

Michael and I had just sat down to lunch when a knock came on the door. It was one of our neighbors, who told us all of my horses were out and wandering around on the roadside. So much for that hot lunch! I had also planned to go to Memphis to my first Tibetan language class at my sangha house, Pema Karpo Meditation Center. Good thing I hadn't!

I grabbed a bucket of feed (mostly out of habit, my horses are catch-able in any circumstance), Icon's halter and headed out the door. Michael drove me in the truck bed about 1/2 mile down the road where, sure enough, all the kids were having the time of their lives grazing by the side of the road. Though Icon did look a little relieved when I called him. I got the distinct impression that he'd realized he was quite lost, and wasn't sure what the next step was. He was all too happy to come up to me and be haltered and shown the way home.

When you have a group of horses loose, and there's only one of you, it helps if you know which horse is dominant (in my case it's Icon). Usually it's not too hard to get everyone to follow your dominant horse, so all you have to do is catch him/her and the others follow like ducks following their mom. Usually. They've gotten out once before and this technique worked like a charm. However things were a bit different this time, as some dipwad in a truck decided that we were taking too long and therefore it was a prudent decision to drive his truck through the group assuming that they would calmly part like a herd of sheep to let him through. Going 30, I might add. For the record, if you are wondering, that assumption is incorrect. Next thing I know I've got about 3800 pounds of horseflesh thundering around me in a blind panic, along with the 1700 pounds worth of Ikey at the end of a rope. Of course, followed by about 250 pounds of Badonkadonkey bringing up the rear. I have to admit that, even in the stress of that moment, he really is still comically cute when seen running with 2 belgian mares. I mean seriously, look:

After a couple of detours into our neighbors' yards I was able to get the girls' attention back to Icon, and finally all of them resumed their duck-like follow-the-leader formation. I am just so grateful that of all the neighbors who came out into their yards and onto their porches to watch the show that none of them decided to try and participate, or that no kids were out playing in areas that might have been in the path of the girls as they galloped past.

I am a bit flabbergasted that people who have lived in the country all their lives could be that unmindful of their surroundings. Though to be fair, most of them have cows rather than horses, and cows really do just sort of stand around stupidly. But let that be a lesson to my dear readers (all 2 or 3 of them). If you are one day driving along in the country and see horses out loose on the side of the road with one lone person leading one, followed by another in a truck bringing up the rear and frantically waving to you to stop, please do so! Not just for the safety of the horses and their handler, but for yourself as well! Trust me, if your pickup gets in an argument with a draft horse, the pickup loses.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Amusing myself with a camera

It's forty-five degrees, what's up with all the white stuff that makes my feet cold?!

No grass, no bugs, cold feet. Man, winter sucks!

I am totally queen of the stump!

Badonkadonkey, Head of Security

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Greenhouse is shaping up

I'll be sad to see our farm help start his new job, but I'm thrilled for him that he got one in this economy. Eliot has been our employee for over a year now and has been absolutely invaluable. My physical weakness and lack of knowledge of all things mechanical coupled with Michael's illness has made it all too clear that homesteading is not for the faint of heart, nerve or body. It's easy to see why the farmers of "olden times" had fifty seven billion kids. It wasn't for lack of birth control, it was for need of farm hands!

Here is the spot staked out where the greenhouse was going. Note the snow is STILL on the ground even though it's in the high forties for the third day in a row. Uh-NOY-ying!

Anyway, Eliot came out yesterday along with our friends from Oak Hill Farm and we managed to put the green house hoops up by the end of the evening. Or rather, Eliot did it and I hindered him on multiple occasions as I attempted to be useful. I did however, swing a sledgehammer with accuracy and strength enough to put one of the posts in ground. One of the 10. Eliot did the others. All of them. On his own. Sigh. Being old and weak sucks sometimes. So here are a few pictures of the deed being done. And yes, that's me in the coveralls. Contrary to popular belief, I actually do work. On occasion. Just not all that competently.

Here you see T and Eliot driving the base posts into the ground.

T and me securing the hoop in the ground pole

T's daughter supervising the project

The finished skeleton!

Anyway, the skeleton of the greenhouse is now up. Next up is framing the door, followed by mulching the floor and covering the whole thing with plastic. I have high hopes that this will be done in time for the pelargoniums I ordered to arrive from . I'm starting small with only fourteen plants, but I figure it's best to take it slow and get a feel for things before I go headlong into becoming overwhelmed. Besides, I've got to get the chicken coop ready for the new additions to the family and that will take up quite a bit of time if I'm to be ready by May.

If farm life has taught me anything, it has taught me that patience is required. Not that I have any patience, mind you. I just know that I should have it. I'm a list checker-offer kind of person, and I tend to get a little overwhelmed and frustrated when something takes longer than a few hours to finish. But farm life is not like that. There's no project that is finished in a few hours, crossed off the list and then you're done forevermore. Nope, it's a never ending project that you are never "finished" with. Something is always in need of repair, something is always growing or in need of planting in order to start growing, something needs harvesting or it will go kaput, something needs feeding or it will starve. The list goes on and on. And in the meantime you have to juggle those day-to-day demands of your time with the long term projects like fencing a new pasture or adding to a chicken coop. Or starting a blog, for that matter. But as of now I wouldn't trade it for the world! What a far cry from my dreams of Broadway as a college kid, huh?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Poor Floyd!

Not a good day for the kids. I went outside to do the morning routine, reveling in a day finally filled with sun. I went in to collect the eggs and make sure everyone had food and fresh water and was immediately confronted by Floyd who has a horrible case of frostbite on his comb! He stared at me with his beady birdy eyes accusingly. So Michael and I replaced the tarp on one window of the coop with clear plastic to allow for more light and provide a stronger wind break. We also installed a third heat lamp over the roosts. I've no idea why he managed to go through those horrible ice storms, snows and subfreezing temps for so long but suddenly got frostbite one night. He's pretty sure I did it to him deliberately though.

I did take some great pictures of the girls enjoying their first dust bath (more like mud, as wet as it is) in the sun in what feels like weeks and weeks. They got a big kick out of it. I'll see if I can't get em up tonight.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Our Feathery Kids

I thought it might be a bit of interest to share with you the breeds of chickens we have on the Cluck-n-Neigh and tell you a bit about why they interested me so.

Americauna: Four words: Green and blue eggs. Why would I not want these birds in my flock? My Americauna hens are particularly fun as they seem to find me completely fascinating. They follow me around as I gather eggs, and are often clucking right in my ear as I bend to collect their lovely Easter eggy treasures.

Barred Holland
: Considered to be the most endangered chicken in the country, I was interested in them from the moment I heard from them. They are a dual purpose breed (meaning they are good for both meat and eggs) noted for their barred black and white feathers. The breed originated in 1934 when white eggs came into fashion. Though the name implies it is a Dutch breed, the Barred Holland was developed in America. It was the use of Dutch breeding stock that resulted in such a name. This breed is known for its mild-mannered disposition as well, something I really wanted in a chicken. They have a yellow skin and feet, which makes them particularly desirable as a meat source for Americans who are used to this color from the grocery store birds. I am very fond of these birds, and plan to breed them this year if I can locate some hens for my beloved Floyd.'

Buckeye: A gorgeous red bird, this is going to be our new addition to the flock this year. They hold the unique distinction of being the only poultry developed entirely by a woman (Nettie Metcalf). They are extremely friendly, and good layers of brown eggs. Most interestingly is that they show no feather picking behavior, and are the only breed consistent in this desirable trait. They are extremely aggressive to rodents, and will hunt and kill any hapless mouse or rat that wanders in. But most interesting of all is their entirely unique vocalization. Yes, the Buckeye roars like a dinosaur. Roars. Like. A. Dinosaur. Who wouldn't want a chicken that freakin' roars like a dinosaur, I ask you?? If I'm lucky enough to catch this vocalization and record it, I promise to put it up on You Tube.

Buff Orpington: These birds are so adorable as chicks. They look just like the Bon Ami chick, all fluffy and yellow. I wouldn't be surprised if that's the actual type of chick they used in the ad campaign. They lay brown eggs quite regularly and are also very calm and pet like. They are heavy bodied and have a sort of fluffy appearance due to their thick feathering. In other words, they are just darned cute.


This blog is dedicated to the adventures of a city hippy girl gone horribly wrong (or right, depending on your point of view). A few years ago my husband and I moved to a small family farm in West Tennessee with the intention of simplifying our lives in order to lower our footprint on the planet, and live a more sustainable lifestyle. For me, it was the decision to be a more compassionate person in my daily life, and that included my diet and how I affect the environment around me. For Michael, it was the challenge itself and the belief that our current standard of living as a species is in eminent danger (something I happen to agree with). For all of these and many other reasons, we felt it was time for a change. We decided to see just how far we could take this idea of subsistence farming and homesteading.

We were a bit overly ambitious at first, thinking we'd be completely off-grid within a few years. The Ingalls family with high speed internet. Boy were we in for a surprise. Due to various unforeseen circumstances from mistakes in planning to general lack of funds to make such a sweeping change so quickly, we soon backed off and decided the slow and steady approach was the best way to go about it. Frankly I think that's the best way to make any sort of changes to one's life anyway, so I'm pleased with the results we have achieved so far.

Our first project was to build a flock of chickens for meat and eggs. I had wanted chickens ever since I was a young child and apparently had a knack for it. When I was very young my parents on two occasions bought me an Easter duck and an Easter chick, fully expecting it to be my first lessons in responsibility and dealing with death. Of course, my Easter duck later became a humongous white peking duck that we later released into Fountain City Lake (duck pond), and the Easter chick went on to become a rooster who would crow on command, and eventually went to a local farmer who raised chickens. I never forgot those experiences, and dreamed of pigs, sheep, horses and chickens from that point on. It took 30 some-odd years to start realizing those dreams and I couldn't be happier about it.

We started small, with 24 chicks and 10 guineas from Ideal Poultry. We were most interested in heritage breeds, those nation-building breeds that have fallen out of favor with the introduction of Frankenchickens for large scale factory farms. Our first flock consisted of barred hollands, dark brahmas and americaunas. Unfortunately we made one big mistake with the design of our chicken tractor (basically a movable coop that allows for free foraging in a protected environment), resulting in a raccoon being able to push the door open. Within one night our group of 34 became a group of 12. I was devastated. But we learned from the mistake, made our improvements, and got a second hatching of buff orpingtons. As all the chicks began to grow into fully grown chickens, we worked on our chicken coop, turning it into Fort Chicken. Though we had originally hoped to free range (allow to wander freely without fences) our chickens it was all too apparent that with the coyote population and neighbors letting their dogs roam it was out of the question. So we created a large fenced in area for our feathered kids to enjoy by day, locking them into their safe coop at night. I'm happy to say we've not lost a single bird since due to predation, with the exception of two who have simply gotten old.

After the bottom dropped out on the economy, I became inspired by a story on NBC News about a group of chefs who started the SAME (So All May Eat) Cafe in Colorado. It is an organic cafe with fresh items made daily. Yet there are no prices on the menu. Rather, there is a donation box where diners pay only what they can afford. All diners are treated with the same respect and dignity regardless of their ability to pay for their meals. The results have been overwhelmingly positive, and the cafe thrives.

Inspired by the idea, we decided to turn Cluck-n-Neigh Farm into a donations-only egg business, where a customer is free to give us a donation of any amount (including none at all) in exchange for farm fresh, pastured eggs. Everyone has the right to eat compassionately regardless of the size of their wallet, and every animal that spends its life benefiting us has the right to be treated humanely and allowed to live according to their own natural behaviors. Our hens never see a cage from the time they replace fluff with feathers, and spend their days in the sun rooting around their yard with their buddies. They lay their eggs in nest boxes lined with straw as opposed to the horrific battery cages used by the major egg producers in this country. We are even a step above "cage free" eggs that you find in the supermarket, which is just another way of saying "no cages, but our chickens still never see the light of day because they are all stuck in a giant warehouse for their entire lives." It's sad how the industrial farm will do whatever it can to fool their customer into thinking their food comes from a humanely treated animal. If you want to find out more about how the Factory Farm is scamming you, I highly recommend the film Food Inc. Anyway, you won't find that here at Cluck-n-Neigh. We will tell you (and show you) exactly how your eggs are produced through this blog in print, photos, and videos taken right here.

Right now our hens produce around 2 dozen eggs a day, though this will increase as the days warm. This has allowed us to have enough eggs to offer to several families in the area who are undergoing hard times financially, yet still leaves us enough left over for me to supply eggs to those who are willing and able to offer donations to help support the business and keep it growing. I'm thrilled beyond measure.

As of this posting we are only $300 dollars or so in the red, and I'm hoping that will soon change. Our goal is simple: I want to support my "chicken habit" while feeding as many hungry people as possible. This might actually be possible within the next few months as we brand out into the Cooper Young Community Farmers Market. I'm making another investment to further grow our flocks because I'm completely smitten with a new discovery, the Buckeye. This year we are going to try our hand at hatching them from eggs. Michael said he'll put up a hatchcam for just that purpose, so stay tuned for details.

I hope this blog might prove of some use for anyone interested in a compassionate diet, sustainable living, or poultry in general. I'll be spending the next few days looking for some good informational links on compassionate eating and heritage breeds, two things near and dear to my heart. I also hope to be of help to anyone out there, so please feel free to ask questions if you have them. I'm no expert but I'll sure try my best to find the answers.

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