My musings on my first year as a Farm Chick, followed by some potentially boring farm statistics. ;)
Short and simple, this year has kicked our butts.
We bought this place just over a year ago now, and as much as I'd love to tell you that we have, through the sweat of our brow, transformed this place into a working little farm in that time, I'd be straight up lying my butt off. We have stumbled and struggled, battled issues of health, money, time, depression, bad weather, ignorance, exhaustion, and unyielding soil. We weren't starry-eyed enough to think that this would be a cake walk, but the ass-whooping handed to us has been a real eye-opener. We are barely keeping our heads above water right now, but there is hope that things will improve in the coming year.
For one thing, we've realized that we need some professional advice in how to best lay out our farm to maximize the sunlight, water and soil that is available to us. My new friend, Brighida, at DeVa Designs is undertaking the task of designing/plotting our yard, garden and pasture for us. What a relief to have someone who knows what they are doing to get us started moving in a designated direction toward our goal of a functional, sustainable and FUN farm!
In the category of minor triumphs, we have the goats. We've taken on dairy animals, and actually done reasonably well with it! The goats have been one heck of an adventure. They are so smart, and for the most part, loving, fun little critters to have around. AND you get milk from them! It's like a dog with benefits! ;) We have successfully bred and delivered mamas and babies, treated hoof-rot, ear infections and lice, and wrangled everything from love-struck bucks to ticked off mamas, all without getting gored or kicked in the face even once. I call that victory.
Our chickens have continued to be a source of enjoyment and great food for us. We moved into this house with four layers and nine baby bantams. The bantams have all gone, and have since been replaced with another 19 hens and 5 roosters, all standard size. Bantams are evil. I won't make that mistake again.
We presently get anywhere from 1-5 eggs per day, with an increasing number of the eggs coming from our Americauna pullets, who are just beginning to lay the cutest little baby blue eggs you've ever seen. :) If every hennie did her bit, all on the same day without fail, we'd be getting nearly two dozen eggs per day/fourteen dozen per week. Someday, someday.
Our eggs have a very loyal following among our friends and Bill's co-workers. The girls are in charge of collecting, ledgering, cleaning and packaging the eggs, as well as extolling the virtues of a free range organic egg to anyone and everyone who will listen. We fetch $4 a dozen for our beauties, and our eggy "income" is finally almost enough to cover our feed expenses. It will get there, especially once the army of Australorps start laying, but for now, half of the benefit of having the chickens is just getting to sit and watch them do their thing. I dare say that I enjoy them even more than the goats at times, and have come to see that they too have very individual personalities. When I need to clear my head, I take a lawn chair and a glass (or bottle) of wine out to the chicken yard and sit under the canopy of my sequoia tree and watch my chickies graze and dust bathe. It is my answer to watching fish in an aquarium, plus wine. ;)
Our garden this year was a flop-a-roo. I thought that I'd go ahead and plant straight into the ground, as opposed to using raised beds, as we had in the past. I was fooled by the gorgeous color and texture of the soil. Epic fail! A soil testing kit later revealed to us that we have too little nitrogen and too much something else that I can't remember. Remediation and supplementation are what's called for, and the quickest way to reach that end is to literally build up the soil with raised beds and compost. Alas, our compost was not yet ready when planting season finally arrived this year, so I tried to supplement with some organic bat guano liquid fertilizer, worm tea and a little top dressing of bunny and goat poo. It all helped to some degree, but the garden overall just didn't perform. I'd had visions of running my own CSA. In reality, our garden didn't even provide enough food for our little family of four, let alone enough to share or put up. This is seriously the first year that I can remember ever having to buy a zucchini in peak season. :(
If there is an upside at all to our garden woes, it is that we actually have had some success with a crop that has failed us miserably every year before - pumpkins. Why the pumpkins are going ape but the zukes aren't is a complete mystery to me, but I'll take it anyway. We may not have much to eat this Fall, but our jack-o-lanterns will rock your socks, baby!
Between the shortcomings in the garden and being kept insanely busy by critters, children and attempting to maintain a social life, we've also fallen short on the amount of foraging and fishing that we normally do. We've managed to grab up and sock away a few crab and flounder, and I found a new love of stinging nettles that will definitely have me grabbing up more of them next year, but I'm waaaay behind on my berry picking. Canning season is bearing down upon me, and I don't really have anything to can. Such a bummer. I will count as a triumph my making two different kinds of cheese, feta and chevre, from my own goats' milk. We have a gallon and a half of goat milk in the fridge right now that will soon (with a little luck) be transforming into a farmhouse cheddar. It will need to age for at least six months, so that's putting food up too, even if in a different way that we've done before.
Turning back to the wins as far as foraging, I did manage to forage a lot of my animal food this year. Fir tree branches, blackberry brambles, miscellaneous weeds from the yard and scotch broom were all gobbled up gratefully by bunnies and goats. At least somebody is getting some fresh food for free!
We've slowed down on our beer, cider and wine making this past year, but are hoping to get that going again soon. I presently have a few gallons of rhubarb wine working, and hope to try some hawthorn flower and maybe make some more cherry wine before they go out of season. Sooooo much to do in such a small time frame!
Anyway, that about sums up our year here in the Hollow. We've learned a lot, and look forward to putting much of what we've learned into practice in the coming year. We haven't really established goals for the year just yet, as we're too busy running around to ever stop and contemplate what lies around the next bend. But we will get it together, and we will keep pecking away at all of it until we either fall down or fly. Wish us luck and strong backs, we're going to need them. ;)
Edit: My darling husband pointed out to me that I failed to mention all of the infrastructure changes that we (mainly he) were able to knock out this last year - a new 8x12, 4-run chicken coop; 3 goat pens; a tilled and deer-fenced 25x85' garden and a hand-built goat stanchion/milk stand. No too shabby for a couple of noobs. ;)
Goats Bought - 7
Goats Sold - 4
Goats Born - 7
Goats Died - 1 (Fritzen's stillborn doeling)
Current Goat Count - 9
Starting # of Chickens - 13 (4 "big girls" and 9 bantam pullets/roos)
Chickens Bought - 35?
Chickens Given to us - 3
Chickens Sold/Given away/Harvested - 5 (Scout, Sunny, Snowflake, Harold & Mr. J, all evil roos)
Chickens Died (illness, injury, predation) - Hens - 5, Roos - 3, Chicks - 8? (that number seems a little low)
Current Chicken Count - 28 (5 roos, 23 hens/pullets)
These numbers don't seem like they jive quite right, but my memory is a little fuzzy, so it's only a general count.
Starting # of Rabbits - 2 (Both supposedly female - NOT)
Rabbits Bought - 0
Rabbits Born - About 25
Rabbits Sold/Given Away - 4
Rabbits Died (illness, injury, cold weather) - About 20 :(
Current Rabbit Count - 3 (one doe, one buck and one neutered male)