Farming from Scratch, Year Three


Year Three of making a farm from nothing has begun! Can we still call ourselves new farmers? (I think so. I still feel new. And I’m still dumb! I think that fulfills the qualifications.)

Our farm isn’t new, though. Our farm is old and wise and it frequently laughs at us. This 40-acre property, grown-over and long-dormant when we bought it, was once a vibrant, active farm, full of crops and pastures and life. Abandoned for at least 60 years as any kind of working operation, we were left not so much as a tumbled fence post to reclaim.

Our first-year farm goals included humble basics–build a farmhouse, start a small chicken flock and goat herd, establish a gardening space. I dreamed about fencing in the meadow bottom, but that was a goal far too big for a first-year farm.

Our second-year farm goals were:

1) Fence in the meadow bottom. Check! See our fencing party!
Jack and the sheep have a home.

2) Continue to improve the garden and plant fruit trees. Check! We have all kinds of young fruit trees–apple, peach, pear, cherry, and plum–planted (and most of them survived!). We also planted grapes (Muscadine, Niagra, and Concord), and I’m excited to see how they will do.
While our garden did perform better than the first year (helped by a couple tons of compost and proper tilling), it’s still a work in progress. Even so, I kept plenty busy putting away food thanks to free produce from the farmers market. I canned, froze, and dehydrated like a crazy person. I’ve never put up so much food in my life.

3) Get pigs. Check!
If you haven’t seen the ridiculous “Picking Up a Piglet” video, you simply must go here.

4) More chickens!!!! CHECK!!!!!
I was hoping for regular egg production, too. Up until recently, they haven’t lifted a feather in that regard. For the past month or so, they’ve been laying about four eggs a day. Let’s see….. 40 chickens. Four eggs a day. Yep, we’re doing FANTASTIC!!!

5) Goat babies of our own. NO CHECK.

Clover: “Woman, some day you will learn that you can’t make goals for other people.”

6) Take control of the animals. I place the below photo of me chasing the crooked little hen through my house in evidence:

I don’t believe any further comment is required as to whether or not I deserve a check here.

But this is a brand new year! Anything and everything is possible! Goals, plans, dreams…. It all seems within reach when it’s only January.

Third-Year Farm Goals:

1) MORE CHICKENS. We free-range our chickens, so we do have losses, but beyond that, I can’t resist baby chicks. I also want more ducks. More, more, MORE ducks. I love ducks and I miss our ducks.
And my sweet Jemima Puddleduck is so alone.

2) In keeping with the first goal, I want a second chicken house. I need a second chicken house. I need one chicken house for free-ranging adult chickens, and another for young chickens not yet ready for the big, wide world. I also want a separate duck house to keep ducks safe at night, and a real barn.
Not that I’m asking for much.

3) Continue to improve the vegetable garden and assess the fruit trees and grapes–adding/replacing any as needed. I also want to (finally) replace some things we lost the first year and so are behind on starting–asparagus, blackberries, and blueberries. And I want more roses!

4) Goat AND sheep babies of our own. (Pipe down, Clover! I can TOO make goals for you! And Jester!)
Jester: “Good luck with that.”

Fanta? Sprite? NUTMEG!

I make the cookies and I can take them away!

5) Inside the farmhouse, I want to continue to work on cheesemaking and knitting. I want this to be the year I finally learn to make soap. And I’m going to pick at least one thing off my Dare Debbie list. (I’ll surprise you.)

6) And recently, for some reason, I got a cow bell……….



  1. Box Call says:

    Well I think you have accomplished many of your goals and to tell the truth, farming is not as easy occupation, nor cheap. Good luck with the barn…that is what always kept me from calling myself a farmer. A real farmer has a barn bigger than the house because that is where the work is done, equipment kept, animals raised. A cow bell? Oh this is going to be a great story. A big ole brown eyed calf or a bossy old Guernsey? Stay away from bulls. They have a tendency to ride the fences down.

  2. skippymom says:

    I like the duck. I hope you will be able to have more this year and they stay and survive. The hat is priceless.

  3. Runningtrails says:

    You have reached a lot of your previous goals. I sure you will meet some of the new year’s goals too.

    Think of all the cheese you could make if you have a cow! I hear that jersey cow’s milk it the richest πŸ™‚

  4. Patricia Herman says:

    You are a successful farmer. This is your life it will continue to evolve and grow are you want it to – are you getting a cow? Like a milke cow? When I was growing up – my mom had a jeresy milk cow and I grew up on fresh milk! The amount of things you can make will be endless! But the butter was the best! Can’t wait to read about this adventure for you!!!!

  5. Johanna says:

    Well done! It’s good to have something to measure your progress against, especially when you can have so many check marks!

  6. Tracey In Paradise,Pa. says:

    :snoopy: YOUR GOALS ARE MY DREAMS TOOO!! You inspire me!! Thanks for another great blog!!
    Hugs Granny Trace :snoopy:

  7. Diane says:

    Its been 3 years already :snoopy: You have accomplished so much. I am always amazed at all the free stuff you find and make use up.I am inspired to do more of that for us this year. Not free animals but building stuff, food, plants stuff like that.

  8. Connie Trippett says:

    You are doing great Suzanne. I think something is wrong with my farm here. We lost our pygmy goat(pet only) and our last duck. Now we just have horses. No food production here.

  9. NorthCountryGirl says:

    Suzanne, you’ve accomplished plenty in that period of time. You’ll get there. Enjoy the journey.

  10. Heather says:

    Can’t wait to read about your progress! So glad I found this blog!

  11. Sarah says:

    Your goals sound similar to mine. Except my first year (last year) that I was going to “kick it in” and become a “farmer”, I had a beautiful garden (small but beautiful) then it was overrun with chickens and they ate everything that started to grow. SO this year clipped wings and electric fencing (over 2 acres for them to freely run!) will hopefully work this year… πŸ˜• I hope to make my garden bigger this year! All heirloom! I am hatching more chickens, we have 17 layers and are getting anywhere from 1 to 10 was the record number 2 days ago! I am HOPING to have goat babies (and fresh milk) and also Jacob babies this year! We are also making improvements on our little barn (lean-to and some smaller outbuildings).

    Oh, I love looking forward to Spring! I just hate to look at the calendar and realize how far away it is! :snuggle: Love all the pics as usual!

  12. Susan at Charm of the Carolines says:

    Suzanne, I love, love, love your farm. You’ve done an incredible job. I aspire to have chickens one day and I only dare to own a pig. Aren’t they adorable?!?!

    Thank you for putting thoughts and pictures to my vision of farm down here in Tennessee.


  13. april says:

    I love your daily update! Everyday I read them and fill that pit in my stomach that makes me want to move out of the city to the country life! I may just have to live through you for a while. πŸ™‚ I’m excited about your goals and can’t wait to hear the updates on them!

  14. Debnfla3 says:

    I think you have done a wonderful job on your farm!!
    And yes, you do need more roses!! Check out the rose forums on GardenWeb…they have a forum for Antique roses! That is what I grow, around 200 of them! I LOVE my roses. Roses sooth the soul and the antiques usually have the best scent that will waft across your yard.
    I love all that you show us. What an inspiration you are to many, many people!


  15. Chantal says:

    You go girl! It’s nice to see someone else reflect, assess and plan. I’ve been in that mode all week. No, I don’t have a farm but do I enjoy the view of your life that you share with is each day. Thanks for sharing. -C

  16. Julie Wriston says:

    I found your blog a few months ago so I haven’t followed all of your progress, but from what I have seen you are doing GREAT and having fun too!! You are living my dream. Your blog is so much fun. Thanks for sharing your adventures in farming and life!! Looks like it’s been a productive two years ~ here’s to year three!! I’ll be following.

  17. Mary says:

    Love your blog. Also, soap making is so easy and fun you will be amazed. Here’s a great site for ingredients if you’re looking:

    They have a lye calculator that helps you figure out your own exotic soap recipes — it’s WONDERFUL. They also have a list of the oils you can use with information about the properties of those oils (those that lather, those that moisturize, those that aren’t so great . . .) I love these people.

    (Oh, we learned through trial and error — don’t make soup without a good stick blender. You have to sacrifice your stick blender for soap-making only (as well as everything else you use making soap, really) but it makes it SOOOOOOO much easier.

  18. Liz V. says:

    Congratulations on starting your third year!!! I’ve so enjoyed watching your journey. I can hardly wait for you to make soap, because I love homemade soaps and would like to learn how to make them.

  19. Becky says:

    You’ve come a long way in a very short time.


    I hope all your dreams come true!

    Love that pig nose picture!!!

  20. Moi says:

    Wow, you put us to shame. We’ve been here for six years and have only accomplished half of that, at most. You are my hero!

  21. Maggiemae says:

    You NEED a cow!!! Not only would you love the cow, she’d love you back. Imagine….loads of creamy butter, sweet milk, cream, and now that you make your own cheese….the possibilities are endless. Yes, Suzanne, you absolutely have to have a cow.

  22. Phyllis Ryan says: This is the website that will show you how to propagate roses from old rose bushes. Check the cemetary, old farms, old home sites. Never know where they will be, but again FREE.
    Congrats on the farm. I have watched the progress and you are my hero. If I could only do half of what you do.

  23. Anke says:

    You have accomplished a lot in the short time you have been at your farm. Love the new goals you have set for yourself, good luck “convincing” Clover. πŸ™‚

  24. Elaine says:

    It is exciting to me to know that you do survive that first year. We just finished our first year. Whew! This farm thing is hard work. Be very sure that a cow is what you want. In my research I found that cows give 8-12 gallons of milk…a DAY! That is a lot of milk and cheese. Soap making is so easy! It is so much fun as well. Maybe I will do a soap tutorial on my blog. Thanks for sharing your life!

  25. Jo says:

    Oh, just think of that cow…with her large, beautiful brown eyes and long flowing eyelashes….*sigh* Would make great pics! πŸ˜† :moo:

  26. Holly says:

    We have had great success with our asparagus from seed. It’s done better than the “root ball” from Lowes.

    I actually have so much seed, that I’d love to share it. If I can get your contact info, I’ll send it right out.

    My husband has banned me from planting more asparagus-he doesn’t like the weird ferns they turn into. πŸ™‚

  27. Lynda Dunham-Watkins says:

    You’ve accomplished so much. Thanks for sharing with us. A milk cow in the near future! That’ll be fun. Nothing better than fresh milk!

  28. Barbara says:

    The video of the piglets made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants……LOL

  29. leneskate says:

    :moo: Sounds like you have a good life there and running a great farm.
    I learned something I want to share, i moved to Northern MN, made a farm friend learned that adding ash to the dirt when planting really improves the crops. So since you have a wood stove save some of the fine stuff and till it in and see what happens!
    Love your site and keep on posting we all really need all your great advise and ideas!! :snoopy: :moo:

  30. Sharee says:

    okay I just want to mention something my parents learned with their chickens. Theirs would not lay eggs either and they would only get 4 or so eggs if they were lucky out of their 15 chickens. I guess they were using the wrong feed. They needed to use a feed that contained oyster shell because it gives them a protien that starts egg laying and it also gives them a vitamin so they wont eat their own eggs (thats what my parents chickens were doing) Now maybe you have tried that but my parents chickens lay a dozen eggs or more a day and my parents are giving away eggs now! Anyways I read that and thought to mention it! We live in southeast idaho along the mountains and even with the 3 feet of snow we have they are still laying like mad. So as far as we have learned the weather doesnt affect the egg laying. :0) Good luck! Love to read your blog! Lay Pellets is what its called (with oyster shells, little rocks and the chickens need to have at least 16 hours of light to help them lay. My parents keep a light on their chickens at night.

  31. SuseM says:

    :shimmy: You go, Suzanne! :shimmy:
    I think you have succeeded and on your way to continually improving your farm.

    BTW, I LOVE the piglet picture!! :heart:

  32. Ms E says:

    Cow bell = Scotish Highlander cow??!! PLEASE!!!

  33. Myrna Mackenzie says:

    Suzanne, I love watching your progress and seeing this website grow with recipes and instructions and info about the progress of your farm and animals. And great photos. (I also loved the posts about your trip to the UK, even though it had nothing do to with the farm. Great fun)!

    You’ve inspired me to go back to crocheting (although I’m determined to, in time, become a better knitter) and I’m now more than halfway through a simple set of placemats for an annual breakfast I’m having next month.

    I also had to go back and reread the Dare Debbie post and comments. I noticed that quilting came up several times. Sigh. I’ve always wanted to quilt, but a)it’s soooo time consuming and b)I’m not good at big projects that are so repetitive, so I doubt I would finish a whole quilt unless it was a simple tied one (I had an aunt who had a quilting frame hanging from the ceiling and she made me a lovely wedding ring quilt, but I know I’m never going to sit still that long or have a place for a frame). Still, all these comments have got me thinking. I’m going to break the project down and make something smaller, a wall hanging. And I think for sentimental purposes, I’ll throw in some scraps from my kids’ clothing (wasn’t that what the true pioneers did? Nothing went to waste. They recycled old clothing into quilts). So, thank you for the inspiration. Just by being here, I get great ideas from you and all the other readers. Best wishes on getting that barn someday! I know it’s going to happen.

  34. CityGirl says:

    As for the ‘Debbie Dare’ I dared you to take a boarder, and I have to tell you, I can’t come up as a border in March, πŸ˜• I had to decide what to do and I picked a farm in Asheville with a rental cabin. BUT, I dare you to invite a bunch of people with RV’s and tools to come up and help you tackle a new barn or plant a new garden after last frost! It would be a great party!

  35. debbie says:

    Congratulations! You may be the bravest person I’ve heard of. I would be so over-whelmed to try to tackle something like you have with three kids to take care of, as well.

    I know the farmland was there but the work and expense involved in re-claiming it has to be beyond belief. Plus entertaining us all with your blog. You leave me shaking my head in amazement. :yes:

  36. Nancy says:

    All in all it seems you are doing well! Except for those chickens! I have 19 and ever since the days have begun to grow (ever so slightly) longer I have been getting between 7 and 10 eggs a day! Because you also free range, are you sure they haven’t made a nest you aren’t aware of?

  37. Kate says:

    Consider blender soap for your first foray. It makes small batches, so there is no waste if it does not work out and you can use different scents and additives easily.

    I have had great success with this, I think you will enjoy it. I bought a blender at a thrift store to use just for soap. Check out the link below for directions and recipes.

  38. ScreamingSardine says:

    Any reference to a cowbell reminds me of the SNL skit with Christopher Walken: “I need more cowbell!” :dancingmonster:

  39. Karen Anne says:

    The good thing about being fallow for sixty years, is I imagine the soil is now rich and diseases have died off.

  40. Patty says:

    Congrats on the last 2 years! Great goals for the third as well. Can’t wait to see what kind of cow you get. The only ones we raised were herefords which are beef cattle, so we never got too attached to any except one old cow, Suzie. She was so sweet and would let me ride her when I was really little. I <3 cows. Good luck with the goat kids!!

  41. MrsC says:

    Suzanne, what an inspiration you are to those of us who are our first year in to farming (and we are under 2 acres – can’t imagine 40). You have done an awesome job!

    I am so excited you hinted there may be a cow in your future! Boy, would I ever love to hear those stories!

    I tried to read your entire sight – but don’t recall reading about your garden plans. Maybe in the future you can share a gardening story w/us – I’d love to hear what you are including in your crop this spring/summer.

    Thank YOU, Suzanne, for motivating me so!


    P.S.> I’m on my way to go order a Miss Clover calendar – I can’t resist the temptation any further! I’m going to show her pictures to my misfit goats and tell them to clean-up!

  42. kerri says:

    Every day is a new adventure, isn’t it? I’m so happy you’re seeing some of your dreams realized. You and your family have accomplished such a lot during the past 2 years with determination, perseverance, ingenuity, hard work and the help and kindness of generous souls. I hope and pray 2010 will bring the fulfillment of several more goals. Knowing you, Suzanne, it will!
    A cow? Oh my :moo: Jerseys are great for fat content (lots of lovely cream). We used to have 3 in our registered Holstein herd. We made our own butter with the cream from their milk.
    The piggy video is a riot πŸ˜†
    Enjoy your day!

  43. cgReno says:

    YES! and yay Suzanne, on #5 I saw knitting on the list……

  44. Barbee' says:

    I thought a barn was going to be your “big surprise”, but a cow is exciting, too. I wouldn’t know how, or where, to begin, but I will be here cheering for you! :woof:

  45. Aubryz says:

    My chickens did the same thing! I have 50 egg laying age chickens and I was getting 2 eggs a day! They weren’t eating enough! We had round feeders and free range but for some reason they wouldn’t come in to eat from the feeders. So we made a 10 foot long tube feeder out of 4 inch pvc pipe cut in half. And they wouldn’t eat pellets. only crumble. Stupid chickens. Well maybe stupid us. So now they eat from the tube feeder lots of crumble and a box of oyster shell near the feeder. I keep them in the coop until about 9 am where they eat like maniacs. Then let them out and let them range. In one week we went from 2 eggs a day to 25 eggs a day. Ok that’s more like it! Good luck and we sooooo envy you and your 40 acres!

  46. Minna says:

    Ooh, a cow! :cowsleep: We used to have Ayshire cows here. And ducks. And at one point we had some very angry geese. They were very good -maybe even too good- watch dogs.
    I don’t know if you have this in the States, but here in Finland we have this webpage (or at least there used to be, I haven’t checked lately) where you can get all kinds native variety of plants or their seeds.

  47. catslady says:

    Oh, I think a calf or cow would make a lovely addition!!!!

  48. chickensohmyagain says:

    :sheepjump: Go, Suzanne, GO!!

    We bought our old place in 1993, with the firm intention of fixing up the 100 year old house and living there forever. Well, you can’t live in a 100 year old house that was built by idiots who did not own a level or a square…

    Before we tore it down(yes, this does have something to do with trees) — one of the guys working under it to straigten out a 6 inch drop from one side of the back bedroom to the other side crawled out from under the house, covered with mud, dragging an entire tree.

    The tree with most limbs still attached had been used as part of the foundation!! He proceeded to beat the tree to death with a crowbar and then put it in the burn pile!! I laughed until I almost fell down. Anyway… like I said, idiots built our old farmhouse. Did I mention termites?

    My dh’s way to decide if a tree has to go is this: if you lean on it and it leans with you, it is ready to be cut down and not until then. πŸ˜†

  49. Kat says:

    Try soap! I’ve made two batches so far, and it’s soooo much fun!

  50. Betsy says:

    Soap making is easy, and it’s a great pleasure to create — you can play with recipes and shapes and scents. You do have to take particular care around the lye, and it can be hard to find — unless you also want to create your own lye from wood ash?

  51. Lisa says:


    I’m seconding adding a light to your chicken house to keep up egg production. I use a heat lamp with a red bulb, the same one I use for keeping chicks warm. I have seven hens, and I still average 3 eggs a day in the winter. If your girls have a warm and bright coop, they’ll keep laying for you!

  52. Jenny S. says:

    I’m so impressed with all you’ve done and honestly you’ve made me dream of goats, ducks, chickens, and more constantly. This NICU nurse is hoping she’ll get a chance for a more self-sustaining life one day. Until then, thought I should share this with you. Scottish highland cattle. Have you seen them before? Here are a couple of descriptions:, I just think those cute, cuddly calves would fit in so well on your farm :). They might even win over Clover :snuggle:

  53. Janis says:

    If you are wanting to upgrade your cheese–get a Jersey cow.
    The butter, cream & cheese from this kind of cow is orgasmic ~!

    You can sell butter from that cow for $10/lb at farmers markets.
    You can barter or sell the raw milk for $5/gal
    Or $3/ half gallon.

    Go visit your local dairy farmer. They are all struggling and would probably sell you a good Jersey cow or bred heifer reasonable.

    Lots for sale in our local ag newspaper, so find yours online.

    Best of luck with your bovine adventures.

  54. susan says:

    The destination is a great, wonderful, dream, the journey is where all the laughter and the tears and everything in between happens. It’s the good part.
    You are my favorite farmer. I love your blog, the passion you have for this farm is just wonderful. I hope I find my passion soon. I want to feel the same passion for something that you feel for your farm.
    PS I love your staff, even if they are not great layers right now.
    Keep up the good work!!!!

  55. Sharon Gosney says:

    I have a feeling this will be a good year for you. Hopefully you’ll get your barn. I opened a jar of rustic apple’s with raisin(from your blog) and mixed it berries and made a crisp with it ….so good. You should really think about putting a cook book together,I would buy one.

  56. Lindakimy says:

    I can’t understand why your chickens are not laying better. They are really so much better off than ours. We have 20 Buffs and 8 (or 9?) Reds and we are getting an average of 18 eggs a day. And it’s winter! They stay in their pens for the most part. If we let them out we have to really…really…watch our Blue Heeler. He thinks of the chickens as din-din. We feed a commercial laying mash (mornings) with a scoop of cracked corn (evenings) for dessert and whatever odds and ends of veggies that begin to go over in the kitchen. And when I weed I take them the grubs and bugs and most of the weeds. They get excited and it’s fun to watch. We don’t light their houses because that seems like excessive force to me. Would I want the lights left on day and night to increase my productivity? Uh. NO!

    Anyway. I really love reading your blog. I think you are very brave to go off and act like one of our “foremothers” – most of us don’t have the grit or gumption to do that. You have chosen a real way of life and I hope you will succeed beyond your dreams. It will take time, no doubt. But, my, how your time is decorated with lovely goats and ducks and other experiences that tuck away as priceless memories.

    My husband and I left suburbia for the country about 5 years ago. We downsized (well, we got rid of the mortgage at least) because he wanted to retire and we needed a place I could afford if I were to be on my own. I still work in town so I don’t have a lot of daily involvement with the chickens and such. Hey. DH is retired (thanks to my endless, underpaid job) so he feeds the hens, cleans out the chicken houses, and gathers the eggs. Fair is fair. I help with putting up veggies in summer but he does do a lot of that, too. We don’t live off our place and I wish we could. I just don’t know where the cash would come from for taxes, insurance, etc.

    Still…I think it is a good thing to get closer to the earth to whatever extent one can. Even though we are not purists we are far more aware of the weather than we were before. We know when frosts come and we are learning every season about what grows well and what is just a pain in the patoot. We have dropped out of the rat race and I’m right glad about that.

    Keep up the great work, please. Keep living your dream and posting about it. A lot of us read and sigh and go back to our lives with a bit of a lift.

    Thanks. Really. Thanks.

  57. Ulrike says:

    My friend is averaging 5 eggs/day from her 6 hens. She says it’s the hot mash she gives them for breakfast every morning.

  58. Netherfieldmom says:

    Suzanne: Chickens need 14 hours of light a day to lay. Put a light on a timer to come on early in the a.m. That way they still go in and to bed at sunset. They’ll catch right up, unless you just like buying lots of chicken feed.

  59. Toni says:

    Congratulations! Every year, every day, one second closer to living your dream!

  60. Cheryl says:

    This is the year I am learning to make soap, too. Maybe we can compare notes!

    Right now, we have seven nannies expecting. Kidding should start the last week of February. Can’t wait!

  61. bonita says:

    Have the cow bell and Beulah Petunia met one another?

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