Thursday, February 5, 2015

This Place is Growing Up!

When you start raising animals you usually start small. You add some laying hens to your backyard garden, perhaps a hive of bees. You learn about how easy and economical meat rabbits are and soon a few hutches show up in your backyard. Slowly you build not just a menu, but a little side income here and there. You may make money, trade your produce and eggs for things you need, or start a honey stand at the farmer's market. Then you are hooked. I know this, and have the original diagnose of the disease.

For most of us we start out with these animals as original, bought-in, stock. We buy a trio of rabbits from a local breeder, we order a package of bees from an apiary, we buy chicks from a hatchery or feed store. This is how we all get started, and how you should! But now a few years (nearly 5!) into building Cold Antler Farm here in Jackson I have realized very few stock is bought in anymore. The systems are now set to produce and for the most part have been very successful! I wanted to fill you in on what to expect this spring here at Cold Antler Farm.

Dairy & Soap
What started with a used goat bought from a local farm has turned into the farm's greatest livestock success story (well, second-greatest to Merlin!). Bonita was bought as a 5 year old doe, in milk, and the very first morning she arrived she was producing. I started making soap and cheese that year and the following year she produced her first kids, a set of twins in which I kept one to raise myself. Now that same goat is outside the farmhouse wither her (now grown and gorgeous!) daughter Ida Red. They are shacking up with a buck named Saturn and should be due to kid in May. The kids will be sold to whomever wants purebred French Alpines (email me if interested) and there could be up to four kids here for the Soap/Goat workshops! This will be Ida's first year kidding and Bonita's (third?!) year kidding here. I am darn proud of those kids, both their beauty and the fact that they are all in good homes or were raised for healthy meat for friends families. And this year with double the production I hope to have milk for barter and make A LOT more soap since this is a fun and easy project that sells great at workshops and events, making them not just a grocer but income earners for this farm.

Lamb & Wool
The flock that once numbered over a dozen is now a humble six. I have Sal the old whether (wool), two breeding Scottish Blackface ewes (Brick and Splitear), Last year's ewe lamb Devi, Joseph the black sheep (wool), and Monday the ram. Monday was born and raised here and is a GORGEOUS ram now with a thick build and a double curl to his horn. The sheep should lamb in March and I so look forward to Brick's babies! She is named that because she is built like a Brick Shithouse and her ram lamb (remember Wallace?!) from last year was so amazing. He was so braw and bold and it was a shame to see him sold to another farm. But this year if she produces a ewe that nice, oh man... There will be Scotties here for years to come!

Meat has been the main focus of sheep here now, and this past summer I had the first ever farm-raised sheep butchered for the freezer. He was small, but tasty. If I do get more ram lambs this year I will castrate them and raise them for food if none is interested in buying a ram for their own farm. I no longer produce wool unless I produce it all at the farm, by hand. I may again in the future but right now the skill I want to hone is taking the raw product and making clothing with it, right here, using the tools of hand-cards, wheel, and knitting needles. This year I plan to take Joseph's brown wool from sheep, to washed, to carded, to spun and then knit all by hand. I'll share the process too!

If you have been reading this blog then you know all about my home-brewed birds I named Antlerborns. These are an Auracana, Swedish Flower Hen, Pumpkin Hulsey crossbreed that is the toughest, smartest, more predator proof bird I ever had. They are vicious mothers and super protective of their young chicks. They roost 20-30 ft in the air - be it a barn roost or trees. I took  headcount yesterday and realized that 50% of my laying flock is now this homemade breed that I adore so much. They're even laying now in Winter's Bottom! I look forward to seeing plenty of their chicks this spring!

Three local families went in on a small poultry project this year. I am raising broilers on pasture with electric netting and/or portable tractors that are self contained. I have the land, love chicken, and so look forward to raising these birds (Freedom Rangers) right here and having Ben Shaw process them for the three pickup dates. These birds will be bought-in from the hatchery, but the layers seem to be something I will not have to order for a while. (Fingers crossed for Fisher Cats and other demons).

I started raising pigs a few years ago, with just one in the barn. Now I raise 8-10 a year and have a professional butcher come to the farm and dispatch and prepare the meat for me and the folks who co-own the pigs. While I do not breed pigs, I AM considering it for a future project when I get the old collapsed barn I inherited with this property cleaned out and made into a proper large pen. I would love to raise pigs and that is a goal for certain! Right now there are four out in the woods in a  paddock/shelter area near the horse pole barn.  I was out in the snow this morning (before coffee!) digging out their fence and bringing in fresh bedding and feed. They are a jolly lot. They aren't due to be butchered for another 6-8 weeks though, and probably will be done 2 at a time.

There are a breeding pair of heritage birds, a Bronze Tom and a Bourbon Red hen. I am really hoping that this is the year they set up to breed and brood their own clutch. I am a little wary of this, but if it happens I will let the mama do all the work. It will mean having a totally predator safe coop for them at night and that means repairs in the floor of the old chicken coop no one uses anymore since the geese sleep in the barn, the turkeys roost on the barn roof, and the Antlerborns all roost up in the rafters of the barn or trees.

Got a pregnant rabbit outside the farmhouse right now! She's from Livingston Brook Farm and is a Giant Chin who was bred with a Flemish Giant.  Hoping to raise a brand new crop of meat rabbits this spring! Though, being her first litter it may not take or she may not have the mothering thing down pat. But she is one handsome rabbit for sure.

Last year was a BUMPER CROP and honey was available for trade and barter at my farm. I have to get a new package of bees this year, and will order it from Better Bee for the spring. I hope to expand to two hives soon! And onward from there!

Oh yes, there will be kale. There will be kale and an expanded vegetable garden and potato patch. Gardening is not my passion but I sure do crave it soon as March comes around the corner and gets day up into the high 50s. This year the focus is on hearty, storage, winterizing food. It'll be a working garden with kale, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, squash, garlic, kale, salad greens, more potatoes, pumpkins and MORE KALE.

Let us not forget the Fell! Merlin is here and such a wonderful gelding. He is right now the only equine here but I am on the lookout for another small draft or spunky pony to be a second saddle and driving horse. No leads yet but there will be more horseflesh here or certain. I had to sell the meadow brook on Christmas Eve but I will find another small cart for Merlin and we'll hit the road again for sure, but in the meantime it is riding that I love most and miss it dearly. This mountain is too darn icy and steep for safe winter riding, and the safe trails I could go on are being used by local snowmobilers. I can't complain, since it is private property I am allowed to ride on all the other seasons!

Wow. I just stopped to look over that list. That is a lot for a little piece of land to produce, and not just for myself either like it used to be. Now neighbors and friends can split shares of pigs, chickens, or trade for eggs and soap. There are lambs and kids for sale, honey in jars, and a freezer with meat and vegetables. There is fiber and firewood, stories and songs, and workshops with friends new and old. It's a damn wealthy little plot of backwoods, innit?

Time to celebrate all that with another cup of coffee.
(Don't tell the pigs, though)


OpenID rawketstarling said...

I love it :)
BTW, I was so proud of you for this morning's post. I was like--GET IT GIRL.
Seeing you take stock like this is so heartening--I've been reading for YEARS. I remember, one time you said "and that's why there will never be dairy animals here" and then, maybe three months later, here came Bonita! I love how you make your plans, then you go out and make it happen! You are a creator, you are a girl who makes things happen, and that's a powerful role. Shame on anyone who tries to stop you. They are messing with an ancient magic they do not understand!
I recently did an inventory of my own, trying to figure out where I am, and where I want to go. It goes something like: a few chickens, a few ducks, trying to get the meat rabbitry off the ground (i.e. keep the dog from killing the bucks and get my does bred!), and then in the spring, building a top bar hive for some bees! I milk goats as a part time job for a lady here in Austin, so I'm getting the experience I need & want, even if I don't really have the space I need for my own mini herd just yet. It's so much wealth when I stop to think about it!

February 5, 2015 at 12:59 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Thanks, Rawket!

February 5, 2015 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I'd be curious to see what readers' farms and homesteads have grown in the past 5 years?!

February 5, 2015 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger Beatrix Hopper said...

We'll have different opinions on rabbits, I know (I have house rabbits who are as friendly and personable as my dog so I could never eat one, tbh), but one thing to flag--even meat rabbits should live happy, comfortable lives while they're with you. Wire hutches pretty much suck (painful, painful feet) and they need more space than a hutch anyway to stretch and move. It's like free-range versus factory chickens. If you're willing to consider it, I hope you'll add a bigger space for your long-eared friends this spring and maybe include somewhere they can get in out of the elements. Flemmies and big breeds in particular are prone to joint issues, so your mama will thank you. Not trying to lecture here -- I didn't know anything about rabbits until I accidentally rescued my first, but the more I learn the more I realize how little most of us know about their basic needs. And I'm not just basing this off me and my house rabbit friends; this comes straight from the highly informative mouth of my small animal vet. :) Thanks.

February 5, 2015 at 3:52 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Great advice, Beatrix!

February 5, 2015 at 4:15 PM  
Blogger Ngo Family Farm said...

Oh, this is SO GREAT! We just passed our five year mark here, too! And well not as impressive as your growth, we did go from a few inherited (ie came with the land we bought) pet dwarf goats to:
-the pet goats/lawn mowers plus 3 milking does
-many, many chickens over the years - for eggs and meat, and a few ducks for the same. Our first ever 100% farm born and raised animal was a duckling hatched by her mama last year!
-a thriving beehive, which survived the biggest flood in 500 years! And we're actually hosting 3 other hives here over the winter. Last year we tasted our first home-grown honey.
-an ever-evolving garden and about a dozen young fruit trees planted our first spring here.

Thanks for letting me join in the fun :)

February 5, 2015 at 9:51 PM  
Blogger sarah e blog said...

last year i housed raised loved and ate 26 rabbits..all but one..had to stay hes my little bunny..actually med sized.. hes so chill runs around my property a few days later he'll come around tired happy and dirty like all boys should..lets me pick him up and put him in his hutch..just taking the days as they come..thanks jenna for showing me we can all live like that..even if thats all we rings true

February 5, 2015 at 10:10 PM  
Blogger K. Jean said...

Not that you need another project, but anyone thinking about a hoop house/high tunnel may want to check out the program through NRCS- google it. You can get ahold of one, depending on the size, for practically nothing.

February 5, 2015 at 11:47 PM  
Blogger Mary Schroeder said...

what a farm you have brewing!! I hope my goats do as well as yours. My first kids this season are both bucklings. I hope next year I get a doe or two. I also want to expand into pigs and my chickens are doing a good job of starting to lay eggs. You inspired me to start my little farm and you continue to encourage me with your stories and information. Maybe one day I will be able to come up and see your place. Best of luck from Missouri!

February 5, 2015 at 11:47 PM  
Blogger kj said...

I can remember first getting Carla Emerys book and taking the skill quiz I thought "wow,I've got a lot to learn!" Years later, having done most of it, I took it and thought "wow, I've got a lot to learn!" And I'm almost out of coffee LOL :)

February 6, 2015 at 6:53 AM  
Blogger DarcC said...

I moved onto my place with my dogs and horses. My first summer there I was given three laying hens that promptly got gotten by predators.

The second spring there I got half a dozen laying hen chicks from one of your workshops, and I was hooked! I went to a poultry show and came home with four meat bird chicks that I named Potato, Carrot, Onion, and Gravy. They grew up to be dee-licious!

Third summer I raised about a dozen meat birds and added another dozen laying hens.

Fourth summer I added six turkey poults, who grew to be 40lbs dressed weight!!! Lesson learned. A few more laying hen chicks came straight run from a friend, and the roos were slaughtered for soup birds.

Fifth summer, 2014, I raised 75 meat birds, 18 thanksgiving turkeys, and many, many laying hen chicks. I fed a lot of them to the predators, unfortunately. Another milestone was doing the slaughtering myself for the first time.

I'm going into this year with orders for 100 meat birds already! I'll probably do 24-36 turkeys, and I'm planning to add a beehive as well, if my sister's hive swarms, which is likely. I also grow a big veggie garden every year, and do a lot of canning and freezing.

February 6, 2015 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger jennybeast said...

This is great and I'm glad you shared it -- as one of the long time readers I know that the farm is changing all the time, but it's really neat to see your periodic headcounts. I particularly like how this post talks about the directions you're moving in as well. I'm so happy to see all your hard work coming together.

February 6, 2015 at 4:30 PM  

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