This Is the Life


Two strainer pots of chevre draining in my fridge.
Can’t wait. I love goat cheese. I’m really enjoying having dairy goats again, especially better behaved dairy goats. And just as important as the cheese, the goats are filling a gap while Glory Bee is dried off awaiting her next calf. I like being able to provide my own dairy, and don’t like it when I can’t. I can manage breedings to have cows and goats dried off at different times, and finally be able to provide my own milk year-round. For most of the last seven or eight years, I’ve been able to provide my own eggs–and happily, the chickens are back up to nearly two dozen eggs a day now, which is plenty for ourselves and to gift to family and to sell. But I haven’t been able to always have my own milk, between challenges with finding a bull and times with my cow dried off awaiting calving.

Blossom, our new dairy cow addition, will be coming to the farm sometime next month, and is due to calve in June. Glory Bee, Dumplin, and Moon Pie are due to calve in April. We’ll have four calves on the farm this year, and one of them will be earmarked for beef. We’ve got meat birds coming in a few weeks to provide our own chicken. The layers are providing eggs, and goats and cows provide the milk, and we’re building a pig pen soon. We bought two hogs from a local farmer last year, and just bought a sheep from a local farmer–which went straight to the butcher. If I’m not growing it myself, I like to buy from local farmers, right off the farm. A Hereford bull will be coming soon (our own bull!), and probably a Hereford cow, and the bull will be breeding all of the girls this year. It’s been a long time coming to provide all of my own meat on the farm, but this year, we’re going to get there. Since last year, I’ve had the help and partnership of a very sweet man who is just as into this life as I am. It makes a huge difference. He works a full-time job off the farm, of course, and I work full-time between writing this website (when I can!) and holding workshops. I have workshops scheduled for almost every weekend this year, and I’m already deep in planning, sourcing supplies, shopping for supplies, taking registrations, making products to sell, and all sorts of preparations including cleanups and setups and other work around the farm related to the variety of workshops I’ll be doing this year.

Meanwhile, I’m milking goats twice a day. My morning round of chores checking/feeding/milking all the animals takes over an hour. Then there’s washing and packing eggs, cleaning the milking equipment, bottle feeding the babies–it all takes time. I work on workshop emails and other workshop-related things, try to get posts on my website when I can–I often plan posts then don’t have time to write them! And then I’m back at the barn at noon for another round of checking on animals (winter requires a lot more attention to the livestock), and then trying to squeeze in laundry and cooking and other life stuff, then back in the evening to the barn for another round of milking and chores.
I’m ready to drop in the bed by dusk. Last evening, we got back from the barn and a big wind had blown a loose piece of siding off the studio so drop-dead time had to be put off to hammer it back on while I held the ladder. In the rain.

Even Glory Bee is tired.
None of this is intended as complaint, though. I LOVE THIS LIFE! But it’s intended as reality check if you’re dreaming of a farm. It can seem very idyllic from afar, and in some ways it is idyllic! Except when it’s not. Most small family farmers I know are working full-time jobs around farming. It’s a hard life with long days and unexpected challenges at every turn. Challenge is exciting, and probably one of the many reasons I love farming, but it can be exhausting also. Farming is one of the most rewarding, beautiful lifestyles in the world. It’s also one of the toughest, in wind and rain and snow and sun.

It’s snowing again here, by the way.
But if you’re ready for that kind of commitment….
This is the life.

P.S. And then the power went out and didn’t come on till 5:30 last night, so this posting was delayed from yesterday. Life in the country!

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Nobody Ever Said Winter Was Fun


We really didn’t have winter here until around the end of January when we got that foot and a half of snow. Snow always sounds so magical. Until it snows.
It’s been snowing again this week, but at least it’s not that quantity. Just daily dustings, enough to keep the roads slick and make repeat daily trips to the barn an uncomfortable and non-magical experience.
Between the snow and the very low (below freezing) temperatures here, it’s been busy and exhausting. I’m bottle feeding Cherry, in an effort to get more milk from Bella. It’s not easy to get an older baby to take a bottle after they’ve been mama-raised.
From morning till night, I’m down at the barn giving Cherry her involuntary bottle. I’m hoping it will be voluntary sometime soon. On the upside, at least Bella is now voluntarily jumping up to her goat stand. This is a big improvement over having to lovingly coax (ha) her there on a leash, and makes the long cold days feel a little shorter.

Except for yesterday, but that wasn’t Bella’s fault. Mostly.

Yesterday seemed like the worst day in the world and like it would never end. And that, most certainly, spring will never arrive. After numerous trips to the barn already–working with Bella and Cherry and checking the chicken house for eggs (which have to be picked up quickly in these temps or they’ll freeze and break)–it was time for evening chores. I like evening chores best because then I have help, but this round of evening chores was starting with a task I wasn’t looking forward to. We had to put down George. We’d gotten pretty attached to George. He was our “Ferdinand the Bull” daisy-picking rooster who was getting beat on by the other roosters in the chicken house. We took George out and made a pet of him, hoping to rehabilitate him.
He hung out in the barn yard with the ducks, and knew he was special. He would see Rodney’s truck come up the driveway in the evenings and come running for his special treats. When it got cold, he’d go in a stall in the barn at night with the ducks or goats. He was having problems with his legs ever since the roosters had ganged up on him, and suddenly started going downhill recently. He couldn’t or wouldn’t walk anymore. (Not sure what was wrong–nothing seemed to be broken.) He started using his wings to walk, flopping around on them, which was tearing them up. We took him to the cellar and he’s spent the past week there, in the warmth of the gas stove, with food and water brought to him so he wouldn’t flop around too much on his wings. But he continued to go downhill, and we finally decided it was time to not let him suffer anymore. So, on what seemed like the longest evening round of chores ever, we had to say goodbye to George. That sucked.

Then we got hay for everybody and moved the cows. We checked for eggs. We fed Cherry her bottle. We gave a shot to Annie, who wasn’t seeming like her usual self. We milked Bella. Then Bella escaped out under the barn through the hole the ducks use to come in and take the spills off Glory Bee’s feed tray in her milkstand. Didn’t think Bella could get through that hole! Turns out, she can! She was probably looking for Cherry, who she knows is in the barn somewhere. We recaptured Bella. Got the ducks put up for the night. Settled all the goats where they needed to be for the night. Checked for eggs again.

Supper had been warming in the oven all the while, and we finally went in the house. Then I laid down on the couch in front of the wood stove and collapsed.

That’s winter for ya. Now I remember why I mostly don’t like it!

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The Slanted Little House

"It was a cold wintry day when I brought my children to live in rural West Virginia. The farmhouse was one hundred years old, there was already snow on the ground, and the heat was sparse-—as was the insulation. The floors weren’t even, either. My then-twelve-year-old son walked in the door and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die." Keep reading our story....

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