Category Archives: Animals

Feeling stuck

Today is a day we feel stuck. We’ve committed that the next thing we do is get our RV moved to the farm so that we can begin our life in Paradise. However, there are obstacles we have yet to overcome, and some days are discouraging. Today is one of those days.

The next step is a multifaceted step. We need a septic system, which requires plumbing, which requires the forms for the barn foundation to be in place, which requires hiring a concrete contractor. And we’re finding that although we anticipated it would cost $x, and saved $x plus extra, it’s looking like it’ll cost about twice what we anticipated. We don’t have that saved yet. Because all of the construction is so interdependent on every other piece, we can’t start any of the next steps until we have all of the money to pay all four contractors. Plus all the concrete companies are apparently so busy in the summer months that no one has even called us back to express interest in getting us a quote.

In addition to this, if we can’t get the money saved up and spent by the end of the year, dear old Uncle Sam will charge us a hefty fine (aka tax) to have the money sitting in our bank account rather than spending it on the farm.

Fortunately, we have a meeting with our financial adviser already scheduled for this week. I can’t tell you how important it is to have experts on your team, and our financial adviser is perfect for us. We usually leave her office feeling much more positive about our financial future, with a good plan that we can implement.

In the meantime, we visit the farm about twice a week, and enjoy the garden, and the quiet, and being able to hang laundry on the clothesline. But we are so looking forward to the day when we don’t have to drive back to our trailer at the RV park!

So peaceful.

Adorable little frog Andrew found.

Yesterday’s harvest. Yes, the worm was part of my harvest. Extra protein right? Ok no no no, I cut that nasty thing in half after I took the picture.

Happy birthday, Fields of Green!

Today marks the one year anniversary of when we bought the farm! So many wonderful things have happened – here’s a look at where we are now.

We have a pumpkin growing in the garden.

Emily’s my great clothespin helper when we hang laundry.

Doing laundry is NOT a chore when this is what I get to look at!

The garden is producing beautifully.

I’m learning about new pests…

And we have new friends as well.

I found this little guy in the girls’ wading pool! It was easy to capture as it played dead when I reached for it.

I took it to the pond and let it go, but not before taking a couple of pictures of how beautiful it was.

Ellie found a dancing partner in the corn patch…

All in all, from my perspective, the farm gets better every day! We are so grateful for it.

Grading and gravel, part 1

Last week we spent nearly every day at the farm doing construction work. It was exhausting and exhilarating! We started the dirt work for the driveway, parking lot, breezeway, and barn pad. Lots of dirt needed to be dug up and moved.

Andrew rented an excavator first thing Monday morning.

The first thing he did was start to move the pieces of the barn – they were jumbled up and messy, so he was sorting them into the order they’ll need to be in in order to erect it. And he found a friend!

I’m in a super awesome group on Facebook about snake ID in north Texas which has taught me a lot about snakes. Based on his description of the snake and seeing the 4-5′ long skin, I guessed it was a coachwhip. And I was right – one of the herpetologists in the group confirmed that we have a western coachwhip. I’m so happy – these are terrific rodent control and they even eat venomous snakes.

Andrew dug and dug and dug. This is one of the many trenches he put in for water and conduit.

I helped glue pipe together, which is a very smelly job. Neither of us likes the smell of the primer or the cement; it tends to give us headaches.

Most of the work was done to the north of the container building.

We put one big trench in down by the driveway, though, for the gate controller and future keypad. Ellie was very happy to help and we were happy to have her help!

Garden update and a surprise

For Easter, my parents bought the girls a live caterpillar kit. We got to see the tiny caterpillars grow, morph into butterflies, and last week we let them go at the farm. It was a great experience.

This was Ellie’s face when the last butterfly flew away!

We love the Indian Paintbrush that is covering one of our fields. The girls pick armfuls of it every time we’re out there.

This garden is my happy place!

I wanted to get a tomato that was known to be heat-resistant; most varieties of tomatoes stop setting fruit when the nighttime temperatures stay above about 75F. And since that happens for two months straight here in north Texas, finding plants that are bred to set fruit in higher temperatures helps the harvest continue through the summer. I wanted the variety Arkansas Traveler but the nursery I went to was sold out of those. So I was directed to this one, the Super Sioux, instead.

When transplanting a tomato into its new bed, many gardeners do this trick; we pinch off all but the top sets of leaves and bury the naked stem in the dirt. A tomato plant will grow new roots along its stem. This sets the plant back a couple weeks in terms of growth, but it will catch up and surpass its previous growth quickly and have a terrific root system for the rest of its life.

Instead of digging a 12″ deep hole, you can dig a trench and lay the tomato in sideways.

Ready to grow!

Right after I finished watering my new tomato plant in, I noticed movement at the driveway. This sweet lab mix walked onto our land, and as soon as we made eye contact, she laid on her back and showed me her belly. I am not a doggy midwife, but it was pretty clear that this dog was going to be a mother very soon.

She was so sweet and so tired! I didn’t have any dog food with me so the girls and I fed her bagels with cream cheese and tortilla chips. Then we gave her some water, and she crawled under the truck and collapsed.

When we have our barn up, I’m going to become the Crazy Dog Lady, I’m sure. But for now, we do not have a place where a mother dog can safely birth puppies. I thought the best place to take her would be the county animal shelter. But just in case she was someone’s missing pet, I posted her picture and story on the lost animals Facebook group for our county. People quickly commented that taking her to the kill shelter was a terrible idea; puppies would not easily survive there. One lovely lady volunteered to take her in to her home until we could find a place for her with a no-kill rescue.

The girls and I took mama dog to the vet where she was found to have no chip (and had also clearly never been leashed – that was fun). Then we drove to Fort Worth to meet the foster lady. Mama dog had her puppies last Friday night, and then on Sunday was transferred to her new foster family with the rescue. Hooray for happy endings 🙂

Farm conference takeaways

Last weekend I attended the TOFGA annual conference and I LOVED it. It was super intense and it’s taken me a week to process what I learned.

One of the biggest questions I wanted to answer going into the conference was the question of what animals to start with on the farm. Through the workshops and sessions and talking with farmers and farm tours, I ruled out broiler chickens right off. Goats slipped down in my estimation when I heard how hard they are to keep contained. Horses are a money sink. Cows are great, but kind of a big investment and a steep learning curve for someone who’s never kept livestock. Laying hens are good if you don’t mind some loss to predation and if you have a market for the eggs. Sheep can be a great animal for a beginning rancher, and there’s a good market for lambs both in the commodity market (selling animals at auction) and retail (selling them for food). I still need to do research on the economics of raising sheep, and, you know, learn about how to care for them, but I think the first profit-oriented enterprise at Fields of Green will be sheep.

I also got plenty of validation that our goal of creating a life our children will enjoy is a worthy goal. One session I attended was taught by a man who did traditional ranching for most of his life. When his kids were grown, they got out of the ranching life as fast as possible. And this man, in his middle age years, rethought all he knew about his entire lifestyle and changed entirely. He started taking good care of his land, fertilizing it naturally, letting native grasses grow, and using high stock density grazing to replenish the depleted soil. I listened closely to what he had to say; a man who can make such a drastic change after being set in his ways for so long has got to have an excellent reason to do so.

I learned I really need to be able to figure out what is growing in our fields in order to properly address how to increase our land’s fertility. Even though the fields have been unmanaged for years, they’re not in really terrible shape. The worst thing about our land is the condition of the soil. I have not dug up one earthworm on our property, and water doesn’t absorb into the soil the way it should. It was depressing to see photos of simply gorgeous soils after the farmers had worked to increase their soil’s fertility. But it was encouraging to realize they’d only been working on their soil for 3-5 years. Hopefully someday we will have good After photos too 🙂

Farm tour

This weekend I’m getting to go to a farming conference. I am very excited to go and meet folks who farm for a living and learn from them. Today the association who is putting on the conference offered some farm tours as part of the pre-conference workshops, and I got to visit Cobb Creek Farms in Hillsboro to learn more about their pastured poultry operation.

If seeing carcasses or reading about killing chickens is going to disturb you, here is a picture of some bluebonnets you can look at instead. 😉

First we toured the slaughterhouse. There were plenty of jokes about dead chickens. Grady, our tour guide, called the above machine the wheel of misfortune. Chickens go in upside down and they’re beheaded.

Once they’ve bled out, the carcasses are scalded (left) and sent through the plucker. Then they’re eviscerated, washed, and cooled in huge tubs of ice water.

Once they reach the proper temperature, they’re sent into the super cold dis-assembly room where they’re butchered (if the supplier has requested that), labeled, vacuum-sealed, and boxed up. After that, they’re frozen and ready for the supplier to pick up or be sent to distributors. It was a super clean, honest operation and I was intrigued to see how chickens can be processed on this medium scale level. It’s much less intense than the giant slaughterhouses, but much more efficient and professional than having to do the whole thing yourself.

Since it was a gorgeous 75* February day, we then went to the pasture where the chickens spend half their lives to see the mobile coops and learn about how they improve the land while getting to be fat, happy chickens.

There are about 600 Cornish Cross chickens per coop, and the coop is moved every day. They get all the feed and water they want while they’re on pasture. The chickens only live for about 7-8 weeks before they’re butchered, and they spend about 4 weeks of that time outside in these coops.

There’s a single line of electric wire around the bottom of the coop to discourage predators. I thought that was pretty genius.

Above you can see how the chickens improve the pasture. On the left of the wire the pasture has had one pass of chicken grazing. On the right, the pasture has had two passes. Even in February the forage is much greener and thicker where the chickens have fertilized and lightly tilled the soil. That’s pretty cool.

Here’s a picture of how the feeders and waterers work. There are also misters in the top to keep the chickens cooler in the summer.

One of the best things I heard today was that a good farming operation needs to be focused on improving the soil – no matter how it looks for your land, you will never go wrong if you’re working to make the land better. And a close second is profiting from those efforts. They’ve managed to make that happen here. I don’t think a broiler operation is the right one for our farm, but I did get some great ideas about mobile coops for laying hens and I really enjoyed getting to see a successful operation like Cobb Creek!

About the cows 

I’ve mentioned on here that there are cows on the farm. I haven’t mentioned that they aren’t ours. When we bought the land, we bought a third of a larger parcel that is owned by various members of a family. They had been leasing the use of the land to the owner of the cattle. We continued that arrangement with the owner of the cattle. We don’t get paid cash from him, but we do reap the benefits of being nearly completely free of property taxes. Having land in Texas that is devoted to agriculture means you get to benefit from an exemption in property tax. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the basic understanding I have.  

The cattle are American roping cattle, which are said to be curious, gentle, and good escape artists. I like them. They guard our containers, provide entertainment, and fertilize the ground 😉