Category Archives: Farm

Early spring has arrived


Rain Recovery

We’ve had over three inches of rain in the past week, which has quite an impact on the farm.

The pond has swollen over its boundaries, creating a small stream through the middle of what will be our garden.  As you can see, Alston rather enjoyed this development.  Unfortunately, that means it will be at least another week before anyone can attempt to plow.  The upside is that the weather brought out a pair of wood ducks and a pair of hooded merganser ducks, so now I guess we’re ornithologists.

While we’re waiting for the lower yard to dry up, we have plenty of other post rain work to tackle.  Between the water running down the hill and the saturation of the ground, the floor of the chicken coop is soaked, so all their hay needs to be replaced.  While we’re at it, the ducks and pigs could use fresh hay as well.  Poor Barney’s house was never completed last weekend because of the weather, so he rode out the storm in what barely qualifies for a lean-to, the poor boar.  And then there’s the normal home owner post thunderstorm chores, like clearing the fallen branches and checking on the gutters.

Also, the guy is coming to sheer the sheep tomorrow.  And Will’s attending a seminar on growing produce.  It’s going to be a busy weekend.  Busy and muddy.

Farm Shoes

I assumed that moving to a farm would help me downgrade my shopping habits.  After all, what use would I have for another J. Crew blazer?  Largely, this assessment has been true with one major exception – shoes.

Because 80% of our land is either covered in poop (thanks sheep, pigs, ducks  and dogs) or mud (hello, garden), my footwear is now categorized as farm shoes vs. not farm shoes.  This is leading to some duplication.  For example, in the rains of the past few days I slipped on my Hunter boots on my way to work.  Once I got in the car, I was overcome by the stink of pig shit and doubled back to the house for more office-friendly attire.  So now I’m contemplating a pair of non-farm wellies.  Will keeps a pair of farm shoes by all of our exterior doors, so every attempt to do a chore isn’t preceded by a ten minute search for boots.  Even the toddler has school shoes vs. yard shoes to keep the poop factor at bay.

Largely we’ve been able to repurpose old shoes or pairs we never liked anyhow (what else do you do with Danskos where the heel is completely worn down?), but some purchases have been required; 3 wellies (2 for Will, 1 for Alston), 3 boots (2 for Will, 1 for me), and two pairs of play shoes for Alston (high tops for spring mud, and crocs for warmer weather – they are just so easy to hose off).  Add to these the two pairs of repurposed clogs and we now own 10 pairs of shoes we will never wear off the property.  I know each pair has a purpose, but my mudroom is getting out of control.

And now, when I’m tempted to buy non-farm shoes my first thought is “I will be so pissed if these get shit on them!”

Rainy Day

It’s been raining since last night, the sort of March rain that is two notches down from torrential but never lets up.  It’s a marathon rain.

The good news is the basement isn’t flooded.  The bad news is that there’s still some water getting in.  The ugly?  We’ve run out of ways to entertain the toddler indoors and have resorted to old Disney movies.

All the animals seem different in the rain.  The pigs are joyous, and for once appear clean.  The sheep resemble wet dogs, and shake the same way.  The chickens look pathetic, and will probably need to be toweled off before we close them up for the night.  Okay, maybe not all the animals – the ducks and geese are largely unphased.

Will is in the basement, building a new rabbit cage for our soon to be here bunnies and I’m shopping for a good toddler raincoat in preparation for the rest of March.  And April.

At least the daffodils have finally bloomed.  Spring is certainly on its way here in central VA.

Sick Day

Will is laid up with what may very well be the flu.  He thinks it just a cold, but he’s ache-y, and while Alston and I are sniffley, we also got flu shots unlike a certain husband of mine.   Which is to say, I got to do all the animal chores today.  None of which could have been accomplished if not for the aid of Wallace and Grommet to keep the toddler entertained.

First up is letting the ducks out of their house.  We used to race out to do this first thing when we woke up, but now that we’re getting eggs we let them stay in until 8ish to be sure they actually lay in their house.  This morning I collected three.  Exciting!

Next up I fed the pigs, who came out from the relative warmth of their house when they heard the ducks.  Our gilts get rather overly excited at the prospect of food, and they nearly knocked me over as I headed through their yard, bucket in hand.  In sheer anticipation, they stick their faces right over their feed trough so I have to sprint back to the other not-blocked-by-anxious-snouts trough, dump in half the food and when they rush after breakfast I head back to the first trough and deposit the rest of their grain.  Otherwise, it all ends up on their faces.

Then comes the chickens, which is just a matter of letting them out and topping up their food at this point.  Finally, I added some more grain for the sheep, as their hay was half full.  Not too bad.

Oh wait, I have to water everyone, too?  And it’s 20 degrees outside?  Luckily it turns out this isn’t as bad as I expected.  The tap outside is frozen so I filled a 5 gallon bucket using the wash sink in the basement and schlep it out to the pigs.  They appeared disappointed that it wasn’t more food.

I then broke a hole in the ice of the pond and the ducks came a runnin’.  I must say, they are not graceful ice skaters, although the geese are even worse.  They are heavy enough to occasionally plunge a leg through, creating their own watering hole.  The gaggle ended up taking a morning swim up the creek, where the current keeps things a bit less frozen.

Another bucket, this time of warm water, was then dragged to the chickens to unfreeze their waterers, after kicking them enough to knock the ice out of the plastic bottoms.  The last gallon of warm water helped me break up the ice on the sheep’s tub, and Scout helped herself to a drink despite my stabbing at the ice with a screw driver.

All in, it took maybe 45 minutes, but I wasn’t rushing by any means.  Since I only get to see the animals on weekends given the shortened daylight of winter, it was restoring to actually contribute to the farm beyond my paycheck.  I can see why Will loves it.


That’s the rounded version of how much we’ve spent in farm expenses thus far.  I should clarify and say that’s the amount of receipts we kept stuffed in a drawer, which I’ve now keyed into a spreadsheet because I’m type A like that.  And I want our accountant to like me.

Infrastructure: Over $10,000 was spent on things like fencing/electric fencing, building materials for animal housing (wood, roofing, paint), start-up gear (hay feeder, waterers, brooding lamps), and other various tools.  While this has been a boon to our credit card company, I take comfort in the fact that these are largely start-up costs.  Sure, we’ll need another shovel or another coat of paint, but it should be years before we build another pig house.

Feed comes in at No. 2, which is to be expected given we’re using organic grain.  We’re paying at least twice what conventional feed costs, but that’s our choice.

As for animals, the hope is that this cost will come down for 2011 as well.  We may order some turkeys and some additional geese, but next year’s sheep, pigs and chickens should all be born here on the farm.  Of course, if we add any new animals (rabbits or bees), that will also incur additional infrastructure costs.

Misc. Operations includes everything from straw for animal bedding to work pants for Will to chainsaw fuel.  These are expenses we’re likely to continue to incur, but that we wouldn’t have experienced back in our city house.

The apple trees are all the plant expenses so far.  This is going to get much higher as we order seeds for the spring.  And blueberry bushes.

We’ve been lucky with vet bills so far, and we’ve clearly failed to keep our gas receipts, but overall I’m not too surprised by the numbers.  It felt like we were building a farm in 2010 vs. actually farming.  But you can see what I mean when I say the mere pint of raspberries and 4 dozen duck eggs were rather expensive undertakings.

A visit from the Extension Agent

My husband did an incredibly responsible thing – he scheduled a visit with our local extension agent to make sure everything looked okay around the farm.  Here’s a brief run down.

The good news is everyone looks healthy.  The not so good news is that we may not have enough pasture to support 5 ewes and their lambs.  The d’uh news is that the reason the sheep haven’t been eating much hay is that the stuff we bought turns out to be loaded with something called foxtail, which they don’t like.  Also, it’s invasive.  Awesome.  The bad news is that it turns out that our pasture has the “wrong kind of grass” so it looks like we’ll be attempting to pull up wire grass (we were told to RoundUp and put the sheep somewhere else, but we don’t have a somewhere else, nor am I excited about the prospects of using RoundUp) and seed for things like clover.  We also need to get our pH checked, so we are now equipped with soil samples.

The pigs look great.  The aggression we were worried about is really considered playfulness (think dogs).  Also a plus, we’ve probably been feeding them too much so we can cut back a bit, which will help expenses.  The pasture over winter, woods by summer plans was met with approval as well.

The birds look healthy.  She was a bit skeptical about our plans to breed without an incubator.  Also, mid conversation, while hanging out with our New Hampshire Red rooster in the yard, a loud cock-a-doodle-do  came from inside the coop.  Turns out our mystery chick is a dude, which probably means he’ll be dinner sometime soon so as not to have two fighting cocks.  If they can keep it civil until we move the New Hampshires down to the lower coop for baby-making this April, he may get a stay of execution.  That being said, his penchant for crowing at 3 AM and waking up the toddler doesn’t bode well for his longevity.

She’d never heard of ducks that don’t swim.  The fact that my most common search phrase for this blog is “ducks won’t swim” begs to differ.

Overall, it was a good visit.  It’s comforting to hear that all your animals looks healthy from someone who actually knows what she’s talking about.