Friday, November 18, 2016

The World Turns...

Feeding chickens, free-ranging turkeys, managing weeds, and being tired...

In the last few weeks, we've named the remaining turkeys: Effingham Sandwich, Christmas, and Thanksgiving.  Effingham has become a little aggressive to everyone but me, so turkey chores rest solidly with me.  I open the coop in the morning and round them up in the afternoon.  Last night, in preparation for a brutal cold front (FINALLY), James and I moved the turkeys to the old guinea coop.  Turkeys are not small animals, so James had quite a task to wrestle all three.  Now they'll stay cooped for a week or two, to familiarize them with their new home, before we try letting them wander again.

The chickens are moving closer to their stationary winter homes.  Egg production has dropped dramatically with the shorter days, and one flock has chosen this rather cold time to molt.  It looks like Armageddon in their coop from the number of feathers.

James mowed down the weeds in the strawberry patches.  I'm afraid many of the strawberries died over the summer, since I couldn't keep up with the weeding.  Next year, God willing, we will mulch thoroughly, replant as needed, and manage better.  The three big kids are big enough to weed, so next year that will be part of their morning chores.

A happy and blessed Thanksgiving to you, in case I forget to blog next week.  Support your local farms and grow some of your own food!

Until next time, remember, this is not paradise.  It's Purgatory Ranch.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Week Later...

We've been busy in small ways.

The barn is cleaned out in preparation for the "stuff dumping" that happens when the cold weather arrives.  We also are making space to stock up on chicken feed so when Mr. PK arrives, we won't have to make the feed run for a month or so.

Some irises has been dug from a nearby house that's slated for demolition, as well as a few lilac saplings.  We'll see what survives.  Our flower collection needs to grow to support the bees.

Speaking of bees, our rescued hive died.  James reports that the other two hives are full of honey and capped brood, so they are ready for winter.  We removed the empty hive and sealed it up for the winter.  Maybe next spring our hives will raise more queens and swarm.  If we're attentive, we can set up another hive or two.

Weeding on the neglected strawberry and asparagus beds is moving along slowly.  It's difficult with mosquitoes still in force due to the warm weather.  Still, we're making a concerted effort to catch up.

Finally, the garlic was planted today.  I saved the largest heads and planted about 30' in a double row. That's less than last year, but we have a better bed prepared and are hoping for consistently larger bulbs.

Until next time, remember, this is not paradise.  It's Purgatory Ranch.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

State of the Farm

What is there to tell you?

We have plenty of frozen chickens looking for bellies to fill.  All but one frozen turkey is claimed.

Garlic planting is truly, abysmally late this year.  There has been too much for James to do and not enough evenings (he and the big kids are in taekwando two nights a week and he teaches at the local college one night a week).  The plan is this weekend.  It's a good thing this year's harvest was beautiful and we have plenty of fresh garlic to enjoy.

Tonight we shifted more chickens.  With hatching new flocks, weeding out the bad in old flocks, and needing to retire a chicken tractor, we've had all kinds of moves.  Four of our oldest hens are now in with the teenagers. Unfortunately, we had to butcher Aragorn, our best rooster, because he was tearing up his ladies.  That's a no-no in a land where roosters are expendable.  Sadly, a juvenile rooster perished shortly after being introduced to his own flock.  I don't know why, since he didn't show signs of injury.  Our oldest chicken tractor will hit the recycle pile this winter, and next spring James will construct a new one.

The summer's downpours did a number on our soil fertility, and I'm not sure how many strawberry plants survived.  They're currently invisible beneath the weeds, and I haven't found a good weeding routine.

The weather is (finally, slightly) cooler.  There's plenty of clean up this fall in preparation for a smaller farm next year.  We may not raise any meat chickens and instead focus on turkeys.  There are big trips in store for next summer, which makes the garden hard to keep.

Until next time, remember, this is not paradise.  It's Purgatory Ranch.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

Today was our annual turkey butchering day.  We started in June with 10 heritage turkeys, six of which died.  We added five generic white turkeys from Atwood's, so we ended this fall with nine turkeys. Two hens and a Tom are being overwintered in the hopes of hatching eggs next spring.

Six turkeys met the chopping block as well as our new chicken plucker.  We once borrowed a plucker and otherwise have always plucked by hand.  Oh, the agony.  Last year, James was ready to give up on butchering because of the plucking.  This year, we had six turkeys cleaned and bagged in less than two hours (with three helpers).  In addition, five roosters, some belonging to friends, were cleaned.

I'm happy to say the coops are quieter and my chores are shortening up for the winter season.  The turkeys, free rangers, were defecating all over the sidewalk, spying on me (Momma turkey) from the front windows, pecking at siding, and otherwise becoming a neighborhood nuisance, so everyone will appreciate a quieter flock.

Until next time, remember, this is not paradise.  It's Purgatory Ranch.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Wine Making

After planting 50 cabernet sauvignon grapes last year, we had our first harvest of roughly 7 gallons of grapes.  A merry morning was spent removing the grapes from the stems, smashing, and jarring for fermentation.  We're going to see what our wild yeast does this year.  Wish us luck!

Until next time, remember, this is not paradise.  It's Purgatory Ranch.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Odds and Ends

We have 9 turkeys still in the turkey coop.  We tried heritage turkeys this year, and of the 10 we started with, only 4 remain.  That's an expensive turkey, my friends, when only 40% survives.  We'll return to our Atwoods standby for now, as we've never lost one of them.

Three different coops hold our juvenile chickens.  There are 13 teenagers, and it's nearly time to butcher the roosters.  Soup's coop, with six chicks about a month behind the teenagers, are just working out who's a hen and who's a rooster.  Finally, Ms. Crazy Pants, a first-time mom, have five chicks less than a month old, and I can't wait until her mothering instinct settles down, as she really is crazy.

We have four actively laying egg coops.  Some of the juveniles will be introduced to these coops, so they all function at full capacity.  I must admit, part of me is ready for the chickens to be in their winter quarters, snugged up near the barn, for my convenience.  I'm tired this end-of-summer.

The vegetable garden is a mass of weeds as we pull up drip hose, etc.  We need a dose of compost this fall, so we're cleaning up earlier than usual.

Our apple orchard is fighting cedar rust, so next spring we'll be spraying with an organic spray.  There are apples this year, but not particularly attractive ones.

James has a mighty harvest of grapes.  Can he turn them into wine soon enough?  That's an excellent question.

The three big kids are finally old enough to work on tasks outside without one-on-one supervision, so they're learning to weed.  Woohoo!

Until next time, remember, this is not paradise.  It's Purgatory Ranch.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Solar Oven Revival

I've had my solar oven for a LONG time (several years at least), but I haven't used it as our family grows larger, as a whole meal is hard to fit in a solar oven.  However, we cleared the deck for scraping and painting, and this pathetic lump needed cleaning, it was a hot day, and I decided to use it!
 I used our favorite rice pudding recipe (from the Betty Crocker cookbook, with no alterations), heated my oven and pot, and let the sun do the cooking.

It was delicious, and gone the next morning.

Until next time, remember, this is not paradise, it's Purgatory Ranch.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The First Fruits of Summer

Here is a visual tour of some of the first fruits of summer when God Provides:

First a video of our apiary:

Here we have the first blueberries. We grow them in a pot to help with the soil requirements. Home grown berries are the best. They taste real and this reality is washes away all worry that is not worth having anyway.

Here is the end of the first day of the Father Kapaun Pilgrimage. It was beautiful if strenuous stroll. I only lasted a day and a half (35 miles) before the blisters on my feet were so bad I had trouble standing. My good friend Kyle M. helped me walk my last mile and a half at a snails pace.

Here are two of my trouble makers at Frank Reese's Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch . Mr. Reese is salt of Earth.  He will one day be a legend. He makes money selling free range, grass pastured poultry to fancy restaurants in New York and San Francisco. (He took calls from Chef's whose names I knew while we were talking shop.) He also maintains standard brea\ds of Chickens that are essentially extinct. He does so in a way that is good for the Earth and for the birds.

Here is his ferocious guard dog. Photo credit my six-year-old.

Requisite chick photos from Attwood's.

Can you spot the evening deer?

Former students who did an awesome job painting some rooms in my house. Leave a comment if you wish me to forward their contact info.

My beautiful dog: Hope

Found on the way to my house though not my sign.

All of these things make my to do list worth it.

If Hercules could clean the Augean Stables I can get my to-do list done. Here is my to-do list for June:

(Write) Adoration chapel explanation.
Baby chick house fixing.
Battery core removal
Blue whale crossbeam
Change tractor oil
Chicken Pulcker
Electricity in the barn
Electricity to parents barn
Email Guideline Committee
Finish planting
Fix big weed eater
Fix Fan
Fix hooses
Fix irrigation hose leaks
Fix or ditch Dyson
Fix side view mirror on Chevy
Fix tiller
Fix trailer lights
Fix vineyard
Fix weed eater
Green whale door
Green whale door fix
Guinea fowl roof
Learn to rebuild carburetor
Mystagogy Schedule
Organize Desk
Organize tools
Papers for deed
Weld spare tire back on
Planting all remaining  seeds
Prayer Evening and Night Prayer
Get Will written
Shed roof
Trailer tires
Weed Stawbeeries at Noni
Weed YJ strawberries
Weld mower
White whale floor and ribs
Write Memaw
Write “Why I farm.”

This blog post is shorter than I intended it to be because my one-year-old can climb.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Sink or Swim

We knew rain was expected this week, so we prepared by moving all the coops to fresh grass.  There seemed to be plenty of room between the chickens and the ditches, so we thought we were okay.

However, the rain began around 8 this morning and continued for another 7 hours, until the rain gauge registered 3.2" of rain.  On our way home from therapy at 11 am, in the midst of the endless pouring rain, I passed paved roads through town that were underwater.  When I reached out outskirts, I found the road to our neighborhood flooded twice.  By the time I turned into the road that ends at our neighborhood, I called my sister to help me decide if I should turn back.
I continued on, and the scene I discovered at home made me nauseous.  The three laying hen coops at the bottom of the property were knee deep in water.  These pictures don't even express the full severity of it, but know the chickens had to either swim or be on their roosts.  I called James home, and I don't think he comprehended the severity either until he drove the tractor down into it.
Thank God for the tractor and a skilled operator.

 This coop was by far the worst off.  James unfortunately found the rooster dead in the water as well as one soaked hen.  We've been able to revive the hen, but here ends the days of A.J., a beloved one-eyed rooster.
 See that water behind the strip of green grass?  That's the road.  Where James and the coop stand was usually on dry ground even in the wettest of weather.
The water is finally receding, but we are tentatively expecting 2+" of rain today and chances of rain over the next three days.  We will do our best to provide plenty of dry bedding for the hens and extra food, and then we will all have to sink or swim.

Until next time, remember, this is not paradise.  It's Purgatory Ranch.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Chick Days

 My helper...
Beak free...

Just broken out...

 Freshly hatched, still damp...
Dried off and ready to party!
 Moving day!  These ladies (and a few gents, no doubt) have moved to the heat lamp in the garage.
 Until next time, remember, this is not paradise.  It's Purgatory Ranch.

Friday, April 8, 2016

A Day in the Life

113 meat chicks already moving daily to fresh grass...

Garlic weeded and watered...
 Rhubarb going to seed, probably due to transplant shock or the crazy warm spring...
 Asparagus (delish!)...
 Purple asparagus...
 The orchard...
 Potatoes finally made an appearance...
 And the blueberry flowers...
 Weeping mulberry (here's hoping for a great harvest this year!)
Until next time, remember, this is not paradise.  It's Purgatory Ranch.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Spring Planting

Nine littles running around...
 Chickens and guineas snapping up bugs...
 Fresh eggs...
 Friends to help… The potatoes are all planted!  This year, Yukon Gold and Purple Viking.  The exact poundage is unknown, as we are planting sprouted potatoes left from last year.  I would estimate 80 pounds.
Potatoes are at YJ Acres this year, not Purgatory Ranch.  Our difficulty in keeping ahead of the weeds should be ameliorated by the closer location.

It was infinitely more enjoyable to plant with friends than alone, and it's far more compelling to get to work when friends are coming!  We're excited to have the drip tape out and the mainline repaired in preparation for future planting.  Next up is onions!

Until next time, remember, this is not paradise.  It's Purgatory Ranch.

Friday, February 26, 2016

This, That, and the Other

Tomato seeds are started, some even sprouted.

Chicken coops have begun moving again.

We have our first guinea egg of the spring!  (Middle egg)
Plans are developing for the garden this year.  Purgatory Ranch will lie fallow.  Potatoes and onions will be planted at YJ Acres.

Meat chicks are ordered.

Life moves apace.

Until next time, remember, this is not paradise.  It's Purgatory Ranch.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sheep Stories Volume One

One of the many reasons we farm and ranch the way we do is something that Rod Dreher calls the Benedict Option. It means to form intentionally different communities that resist the culture of death. Much like St. Benedict formed monasteries at the end of the Roman West. By creating a community around the Word and different than the death around him, this Saint preserved Western Civilization or as some call it Christendom. 

St. Benedict, pray for us! 
Alasdair MacIntyre, from whom I believe Rod Dreher found the term and who is one the Thomists of our time wrote in After Virtue:
  • It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead— often not recognizing fully what they were doing— was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another— doubtless very different— St. Benedict.

  • MacIntyre, Alasdair (2014-04-30). After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition (p. 263). University of Notre Dame Press. Kindle Edition. 

I believe that the Benedict Option includes (or perhaps supposes) the self-restraint of brave Christians. Bravery, that I think we can recall the mythos akin to the mythos of the knights of old.  Solzhenitsyn prophesized the need for this self-restraint if we are to save the West from its death via materialism and skepticism. (Most people seem to define "skepticism" as a rigorous doubt of any fact which they would prefer not to believe. And I would define materialism as largely a reversal of means (material) and ends that alienates persons from meaning.

This bravery is not just for our sake, though. It is for the benefit of the world. Which came from Christ, and Christ came into the World. But the World does not know Him. I pray that we in this room can bring this Light to whole world.

It is by this courageous self-restraint that we will become witnesses. And it is through our witness that we become an invitation. And this invitation, if sincere and to the depths, becomes friendship, and even perhaps the rarest of relationships: the virtuous friendship. In these best cases this reciprocal love leads to eternal life. The final point to which we ought to order all of our actions.

The follies that come with seeking out and meeting these challenges by which I could refine my self-restraint are often the best stories. One of these adventures has been starting a small 'organic' farm. (More on the quotes later)

And perhaps you too have had visions of moving out on just a few acres. You would raise a permaculture paradise seeking after a preternatural replication of Eden. Vegetables, raw milk, honey, rotationally grazed cattle, and sheep come to you when they hear your voice. And so I sought to be an icon if you pardon the term in a self-deprecating story of the Good Shepherd.

My Vision of Heaven on Earth

So here we have the progress from bravery to the friendship you have happened when you live out the Benedict Option. I yearned to be a shepherd. I had already been farming, earning money by it. Feeding my family and learning better the meaning of the agrarian parables of our Lord. I figured I could continue the lesson and add some additional value to my farm.

I learned up South Hutch, something like every third Thursday, there is a small animal auction that focuses on sheep and goat. Perfect. Except new and way out my wheel-house. You learn when you become a student of agriculture without being born into it that everything you try is more out your wheelhouse than you estimate.

An example of a fine auction house. 
To fit in, I dressed the part. I drove my pickup an hour or so north. Now, there is something about being green (new) to the farm and ranch business that no matter have brave you are that people just sense. So in the middle of the auction house, me and two of my brood sat. There formed around us a ring of empty seats in an otherwise crowded Amish auction house. And it was there in this Amish Auction, which has its own truly alien vernacular I met my friend,  Mohamed Al-Malichi. No, not that Mohamed Al-Malichi. My Malichi spits at the name of the other, but I digress.

We talked sheep between lots. I was looking for a lot of 7 sheep. He taught me about choice, in which if you bid the highest get to pay the price of the bid by the pound for a certain number of animals.

A large lot of sheep, numbering more than the Biblical 40 came charging in. Malachi, in my view the expert in all things Bovine, said these were good specimens. I called choice. An assistant auctioneer called choice (not so) loudly back. He then left the ring at the behest of something I did not see. I won the bid at something like $1.50 a pound. And all 40 of the sheep left the pin. 40 Sheep at an average of 150 pounds. If you did not follow the math there, I saw the financial ruin of my farming business in a stampede out that gate.

Now, thank God, for the great Commission. I mean not only because by it our ancestors were converted by the Apostles and their successors, but it gave me the courage to have made friends (of at least utility) with an obviously Muslim man. For Mohamed Al Malichi, before I could overcome my stupor and act, yelled out "Wait!"

And then some excited Arabic.

And then AL-Malichi correct the auctioneer that I had called choice. (Remember the man who acknowledged me had left.) Now, after the sheep were called back, I was lectured for not calling choice after an explanation of the rules of the auction for everyone to hear. And this time, I won "choice" of the lot for 69 cents.

Who says you have no friends at an auction!

I was not really given "choice", but "gate" for some reason. I did not hear or understand the explanation of what that meant at that tense moment. I did see what it was, though. The biggest meanest Scotish Highlander (a breed of sheep) in the lot went through the gate first along with 5 others in the heard.

Now, following the advice in a book: Apostolic Farming, the Servant of God Catherine Dougherty, I do things as cheaply as possible and never go into debt for anything related to the farm. This means, btw, if we ever have a bad season, it is money that we can loose. It also means that it is hard to grow too fast. But it means most of all that sometimes I live a comedy of errors by doing it the hard way. Maybe I should say (or type) Adventures if you consider these comedic moments rightly, as Chesterton would have it.

This means I did not have a livestock trailer, but a piece of what is called a cattle panel cut in half strapped to the top of my Chevy. It was cut in a way that there were essentially spikes every 6 inches across the length of the tail gate. This spikes were about 8 inches in length.

 (This part of the story is funnier if you recall would I have would have had to do with the extra 36 sheep earlier.)

After paying, it was time to load up the sheep. Remember in the commentaries you have read about the Lukan infancy narrative about the lowliness and even perhaps the uncleanliness of those shepherds of our Lord's time? One of the modern day shepherds, who meet all the of Biblical Shepherds who hear the Gloria for the first time, drove the sheep to the loading pin by shocking them, yelling at them, and spitting more tobacco. You could say I thought he did this “Vesuviusly” . I believe the sheep thought so too. Now usually, the sheep are driven into a trailer via ramp and gate.

"No trailer, eh," my modern day shepherd says. "Aye," I say. "Well, I operate your tailgate while you load them." So I picked up each sheep. Starting with the Bella, the angsty, Scotish Highlander, alpha of the little pack. She weighed more than 200 pounds. The rest were more like ewe lambs, or maybe yearlings. Bella was not easy to load up, and around a gate, and in between a tailgate and money saving spikes of doom. The ewe lambs would have been easy to load, though, if Bella had not been so vigorous in her attempt at escaping each time the tailgate came down.

This was the first clue that Bella had not read the book on sheep that included things like how docile they can be. Sheep go to Heaven, my word.

Now perhaps, I was not as green as I am letting on so far. I had taken care of goats many times before. I was even babysitting goats for another small time farmer friend who was away visiting family and needed to someone to milk his goats. I was good at goats. I had two of my own, I bought from Kevin. I was raising them for meat. My kids were friendly with the kids.

I though it was just be a matter of not shocking and yelling at the sheep for them to be tamed. And indeed at the height of our relationship, Bella at from my hand once. But largely because my sheep came from an large factory farm, and also because I had not given them the standard expensive medicines, they became sick.

I held many dying sheep in my hand. I was a friend of the dying, though animals. And this is why we have a hard time imagining becoming a small time certified organic farm. This and a distrust of the government which makes my intone Joe Salitoon and chant “Everything I want to do is illegal!!” Safe practices are important to us. And we follow all the laws we know about. Even if that means not doing business. But this also means I want less of Ceasar in my life during what looks like the Last Battle.

And so my Sheep came to know my voice and run away from me. For my presence in the pasture meant they were to be caught, held, force feed medicine and stabbed with life saving needles. I bought six sheep. 4 times they manifested different worms. All of which they brought with them from a sick system. I was the mediocre shepherd.

But here I remember the Augustinian Principle that God allows evil for greater good comes from it. For my sheep lived on land leased from a near by neighbor. Both are Christians who do not go to Church. Former Armenian and Methodist Couple. Both on either their second or third marriage. Together, I believe partly because how pitiful of a shepherd I was, they would help me when they saw the opportunity. This leads to fellowship and eventually to sharing of theology.

Because of this sheep founded friendship this couple would often come to me when ever Pope Francis would be reported as saying something crazy. We get to look up the context together and talk about what the Faith actually says and why. They are open but difficult to nail down on coming back to Church with me.

There is also another sheep founded friendship that was deepened by my miserable first attempt at shepherding. Another neighbor down the road listened to me scold his kids, with his permission, about chasing my sheep. Running my sheep around seemed at the time like a venial form of cattle rustling. And had I not my tempered by ten years of teaching Religion to teenagers I might have lost my temper finding them. I marched them home making them abandoned their bikes and my truck we walked and I interrogated in a calm quite voice for about a quarter mile back to their house.

Their father was impressed enough at this he asked me to keep talking and resolve the conflict. I used what in my industry is called Love and Logic. They came up with their own consequence that involved a day of helping my weed. They also shared two meals with us. Praying before meals was a shock for them. For their family is also culturally Christian but they are un-churched for a generation and a half now. 

Their father would also help me with some shepherding duties and I would help in payment split wood.  We of course would talk about everything under the stars. And sometimes we even go beyond those. In those months where the need for farm work and wood splitting is less we began to laps around our country miles. I started this practice after I had read of a practice of the Maltese where people often stroll in the evening. Even my neo-pagan Christian friend gets the idea now that we speak to every one and listen to them for the sake of community. It builds peace and subsidiarity in our small country neighborhood.

He may not always accept the invitation to walk, I go nearly every evening at sundown, but he makes sure to tell me he wants to be invited. Solidarity requires sharing our material good first and then also our spiritual ones. Living this out is a long process, but though the road is narrow the end is bliss.