Sunday, November 13, 2011

Farm Blog

All farm related posts are now on the Square Peg Farm Blog

Monday, May 23, 2011


Now that we are settled into the farm we are ready bring on the sheep! We are picking up our sheep on Thursday. Now for a little bit about our sheep and our plans for them

We are getting three ewes that are already experienced mothers and have been handled frequently and so are easy to manage. They are from Rare Find Farm near Raleigh, NC. They are registered as #S25401 (Endive-4yr), #S24904 (Elizabeth- 4yr), #s27527 (Fannie Mae-3yr). They have all had lambs but only Endive and Elizabeth have sons (1 each) registered.

We are raising Shetland sheep, a heritage breed characterized by its small size, hardiness, friendly nature and fine fleece. Ewes are usually between 75 and 100lb with 2-4lb of fleece per shearing. Shetlands are listed as a "recovering" breed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Our sheep will be primarily pasture fed, eating the grass that is growing in the pasture and not needing any grain or hay during the summer. Our Ewes will be given grain during gestation and after lambing, though, to keep them healthy while they are making and feeding babies. Sheep don't require much housing but they will have access to shelter in the barn whenever they want to get out of the weather or the sun. There is also shade from trees growing in and around the pasture.

Our flock will primarily be a breeding flock. In other words, our goal is to create lambs that can go on to be used for breeding-- not eaten or wethered. Some of our sheep will still probably be used for meat, particularly if we get a lot of rams or have animals that aren't worth breeding, but the goal will be to grow our flock of breeding ewes and also to sell breeding ewes and rams to other farms. For now we will be leasing the use of a Shetland ram from a nearby farm, hopefully. That's something that we need to arrange soon! If we want to have lambs in April we'll need to breed in November.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Playing Dress Up

A year or so ago my grandparents moved into an assisted living community and since then my parents, aunts and uncles have been cleaning out their old house, bit by bit. The nice furniture and all the valuable antiques and collectibles have been split among the siblings and now most of what is left will be sold at an estate sale this summer. Living out of town, and now far out of town, I haven't spent much time treasure hunting through the old house but when my parents cleaned out the closets last week and took most of the old clothes to Goodwill, my mom pulled out a few of grandma's old dresses for me to try on. Since I'm in town for a week for the Carolina Fiber Fest I got to play dress up today!

Excuse the bad webcam photos- I'm home by myself this morning while I wait for mom to get home from work so we can head to Raleigh for the festival.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Garden Part 2: fill it with manure

Today Chris finished digging the garden, mixing in the manure and humus and laying out the paths. The fencing needs to be finished and hopefully tomorrow morning we can start putting in plants! Work on the garden would go faster if it would stop raining!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Gardening Notes

Plant tall crops in the northeast part of the garden so that as summer wears on they won't cast shade on lower growing plants

Don't plant corn and tomatoes together. Don't know why, just don't do it.

Healthy soil has at least 10 worms in a 12"x12"x7" deep soil sample. We have about 20.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Make Friends

Moving is a great opportunity to have a fresh start. And so I'm making a resolution to actually make friends in our new town. Friends that aren't either family or work related. But I haven't really made friends since I was in grade school. I have a couple of close friends and that has suited me pretty well, but now that I'm moving 8 hours away from the few friends I have, its time that I make some new friends. does a self employed adult make friends? I don't have co-workers or classmates, and I don't have kids yet so I can't rely on meeting other moms through kids' activities. Other than knitting groups (which can be hit or miss) where else can I find people to be my friend?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Structural Engineering

A week ago we had the new house inspected as part of the regular due diligence you have to go through when buying a house. In general everything was fine but there were a couple of things that could be signs that water was seeping under the house and undermining the foundation, causing the house to sink. Nothing so serious that the house would fall apart on us anytime soon, but our concern was that it could cause us problems re-selling the house after Chris's residency is done in 4 years. So we decided to have a structural engineer come look at the house. He went out to the house yesterday and while we are still waiting on the official report the word is that the "signs" we saw in the initial inspection were just part of how the house was built and not cause for alarm. There are still a few things that need to be done by the current owners before we close on the house, but nothing that will cause problems in the future. Yesterday we also had the termite inspection done and termites were found, so the whole house will need to be treated before closing.

Overall inspections went well and didn't uncover any problems that will prevent us from buying the house. And we are very glad that we had them done because even though its all minor stuff, the cost of fixing everything properly is going to add up and we are glad that it will be the current owner's responsibility and not ours. Now we just have to cross our fingers that he will actually get everything fixed like he is supposed to. With less than 2 weeks till closing that doesn't give him much time!

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Fencing is one of, if not the, biggest expense in setting up a farm. Our farm already has 4-board wood fencing around part of the perimeter which is great but its really meant for horses and probably isn't enough for sheep and pigs. And the rest of the fencing is woven wire. Which might be perfect but unfortunately we didn't pay close attention to it and can't remember what the spacing on the wire fencing is. Hopefully the wire fencing is in good shape -- if so then we won't have to spend thousands of dollars on fencing, yippee! We won't be able to inspect the fencing ourselves until we go up for closing on the 22nd, but assuming its in good shape all we'll need to add is woven wire to the front line of fencing, since its the wood board type. Then we'll need install electric net fencing to divide the pasture in half. This is so that the sheep can eat the grass down in one part while new grass is growing in the other part. We may be able to wait until next summer to install this fencing, though, since this summer we'll only have 3 sheep and so they won't eat the grass down as much.

Then we'll need some electric fencing to separate the pigs from the sheep. Pigs don't require much fencing because they have short stubby legs and aren't good at climbing or jumping, BUT sheep really like to eat pig grain and it makes them sick, so we have to keep them separate with 36" electric netting.

Since we haven't found the perfect pigs yet and since they will require additional fencing, which is an extra expense, we may start with the sheep and get them settled before adding the pigs to the mix.

We have graduation, a wedding and two festivals in May so we will be driving back and forth between KY and NC all month but will finally be done and ready to spend all our time on the farm after the Carolina Fiber Fest at the end of May, so hopefully we can pick up our sheep that week. Now we just need to figure out how to get the sheep from NC to KY since we don't own a livestock trailer!!!

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Today, just before a huge storm swept in, we visited the sheep farm. I should clarify, this isn't just any sheep farm its one of my favorites. The farm, Rarefind Farm is owned by Lynn and her husband and they raise the most beautiful Shetland sheep. They are as friendly as dogs and come racing over when Lynn calls for them-- they get so excited that even the pregnant ewes leap like little lambs! And their fleeces. wow. Several years ago when I first had my hands on yarn made from Lynn's fleeces I couldn't believe it was Shetland. I thought she must have snuck some merino in it was so soft! All my previous experiences with Shetland fleece had been a bit, well, "rustic" would be the nice way to put it. I had no idea that Shetland wool could be so fine. She doesn't have a sheep in the flock with a micron count of more than 30, and her average is around 22 (I think that's what she said-- I should have been taking notes). Perfect for hand spinning and the type of wool you'd want to have against your skin.

Because Shetland sheep are so small they are perfect for our small farm. We are planning to start with three this year but we'll breed them in the fall and lamb in the spring, so we'll have more next summer (and the next, and the next...) but they are small enough that it'll take a while before we run out of space. And they are small enough that I can handle them on my own-- larger breeds are surprisingly strong and when they are stubborn can be too much for someone my size/strength to handle. Plus they don't eat as much as larger breeds which will be nice on our wallets!

After talking to Lynn I think our best choice is to buy three adult ewes who have already had at least one baby. This way we will know that they are good, healthy animals and they shouldn't have problems with lambing. Sometimes new moms take a while to realize that the tiny creature following them around is their responsability, and they can have more trouble birthing, so a proven ewe will make things simpler for us and take away some of the stress of our first lambing!

I'd like to bring them to the farm in late May or early June. That will give us the summer to get to know them and get them settled in before breeding in the fall. Of course, that means that we'll have to have the farm ready for them. Thankfully our trip to Lynn's reassured me that setting our farm up for sheep is within our capabilities.

My dad has already told my mom that she can have a sheep...which would live at our farm, of course!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Pig Pictures from yesterday's visit to Cane Creek

Mud Room

Did I tell you that our new house has a mud room? I have always wanted a mud room but didn't think we'd actually find a house that we liked that had one! And this is what I want my mudroom to look like. Just Like This. Photo from the Martha Stewart website.

Decorating with Animal Photos

Having always rented and moved every 2 years I've never really gotten into decorating. But the house we are buying deserves to be decorated. The walls in the living areas are already painted in beautiful sage green and soft yellow-- exactly the colors I would have chosen-- so we just need to decide what we want to put on those walls. I would really like come up with a neat way to frame photos of farm animals and use them to decorate the house. But like I said, I haven't done a lot of decorating so I'm afraid I'll just end up with a boring wall of plain frames line up in a row without any character. So I'm looking for good ideas that will go with the contemporary farm house style I'll be using in the house. Oh and it has to be cheap because after paying the down payment on this house we won't have any money left over to actually decorate the place! Any ideas??

For the pictures themselves I've love to use photos with stories. I'm hoping to get some pretty prints from Juniper Moon and may be able to bribe a photographer friend to come out and do a shoot on our farm, but that won't be till we fill it up with animals so it might be a while. Do you have any favorite farm photos of your own? Or do you admire the work of a photographer who does a lot of farm animal photography? Let me know!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Farm Needs Animals

As farms go, ours is pretty small. 5 acres is pretty much the minimum you can get away with calling a farm and most "real" farmers would say its really just a glorified back yard. But its our farm and it'll be the perfect size for us to get our feet wet and learn what we are doing without being totally overwhelmed. Because we don't have a lot of space we need to make sure that we pick our animals carefully. To this end we are choosing small versions of the animals we want. For sheep we are looking at Shetlands, one of the smallest breeds (and also the most friendly, in my opinion). And for pigs we are looking at heritage breeds that grow slower and stay smaller than more "commercial" breeds. And since we only have space for a few of each type of animal we want to make them count and get the best animals we can afford. Thankfully over the last few years I have been keeping my eye out for farms I like and long before we found the farm, I already knew where I wanted to get our animals.

Today we visited Cane Creek Farm which is where we want to get our pigs. We love this farm for several reasons. The first thing that attracted us to them was the incredible taste of their pork. I have to admit that I never used to care for pork. The stuff you get at the grocery store tends to be pretty bland and is only good if you cover it in tasty sauce or really flavorful spices or herbs. The pork itself is just a filler to take up space on your plate. But did you know that that's not what pork is supposed to taste like? Here is what happened. Back in the 80s when the pork industry launched its "The Other White Meat" campaign (p.s. pork isn't a white meat...) the trend was towards making pork very lean so that it was similar in fat/calorie content to poultry. So all the commercial pigs were bred to that end. And they lost all their flavor and ended up as just, well, the other white meat. Blah. Thankfully small farms kept heritage pigs alive and thriving. Heritage breeds (i.e. relatively rare breeds that haven't been bred for the commercial meat market) are a lot like wild pigs. They tend to grow more slowly and don't get quite as big. They also tend to be more resilient and are better at foraging for themselves. Provided that they have water and a big, healthy pasture with plenty growing in it they can pretty much fend for themselves. Not that you would want to drop them in a field and ignore them- they have too much personality for that.

The quality of the pigs themselves are the main reason we want to get our pigs from Cane Creek, but we also feel good supporting the farm because we love how its run. They raise pigs, cows, sheep and assorted poultry and all of their animals are so healthy and, well, happy. I try not to refer to animals as happy because I think its a human emotion that we incorrectly transfer to animals but if I have ever seen animals that deserve to be called happy its the Cane Creek animals. Did you know that pigs will roll over on their backs so you can scratch their bellies? Or follow you around the field hoping for a scratch behind the ear? Today I stood beside a monster of a boar with big nasty tusks and scratched his back while he calmly nibbled grass and made contented noises. Yeah, that was one happy pig. The new mama sheep watched me carefully while I petted her itty bitty son and the pregnant ewes (Blanche, you are my favorite) rubbed their swollen bellies up against my legs for a gentle scratch. The only animals on the farm that didn't seem happy for human attention were the geese, but then protecting the farm from intruders is their job so their efforts should be applauded.

Farm owner Elizabeth clearly has a passion for her animals and we feel really honored that she is willing to let us take some of her babies home to our own farm. I can tell that she is the type of person who would only sell an animal to what she knew would be a good home, regardless of the money.

Now we just need to decide which pigs we want. In May Cane Creek will be weaning a bunch of Ossabow and Ossabow-crosses. These young pigs are called "shoats" or "feeder pigs". I personally don't like the term feeder pigs because it reminds me of the feeder mice I used to buy my pet snake and I don't like the image of a cute little piglet being eaten by a snake! The Ossabow breed is pretty neat, but I'm not sure they are for us, at least not right now. They super tasty but also really fatty and I'm not sure we really need a freezer full of such fatty meat. I think we'll just buy the really fatty stuff in small quantities from Cane Creek for special occasions. I'd like to have at least one of the Ossabow-crosses, though. They are a bit better balanced for a small farm, in my opinion. Ideally I'd like to start with 3 pigs and, since we are limited in space and want to make the most of each animal, I'd like each pig to be a different breed. That way we have the most diverse experience raising them and the most assortment in our freezer. So one will be an Ossabow cross but what about the other two? More investigating is needed!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Step 1: Buying the Farm

The dream suddenly started to feel real on March 26 when we signed the papers to buy our farm. We will be living on 5 acres in Nicholasville, just south of Lexington, KY. Chris is happy because it has a beautiful suburban looking front yard with a rich carpet of green (blue?) grass. And in the back is space for enough gardens to put veggies on the table year round, an old playhouse that will make a perfect chicken coop, a work shed that can easily be converted into a dye studio, a barn with enough space for animals and a wood workshop and about 3 acres of fenced in pasture land. The whole property is fenced in with the 4-board wood fencing that is so popular in Lexington.

The house itself is move in ready. The upstairs bedrooms will need to be repainted-- right now they are painted in the colors that kids picked out (pink, blue, red...) but Chris really enjoys painting walls so he is looking forward to doing the painting! I love the colors that the downstairs rooms are painted in- sage green and light yellow- so all it needs is to be filled with all our stuff.

We have a few chores that need to be done outside before the farm is ready for animals.

1- right now the fencing is ideal for horses but will need to be lined with wire mesh fencing before its ready for sheep. The gaps between the board planks are big enough that a sheep might be able to escape, or at least gets its head stuck.

2- we'll also need some electric fencing to divide the pasture in half. that way we can have the sheep in one part while we let grass grow on the other part, and then swap. Hopefully this way we can keep grass on the ground and not have to spend as much money on hay during the summer.

3- the playhouse will need to be converted to a chicken coop. We should just be able to put in some roosts and nesting boxes, patch up the screen in the windows and cut out a chicken sized door w/ a ramp

4- we need to decide where to put the pig pen and how exactly we want to set it up

5- one of the first things we want to do is put in the gardens. We have a bunch of seeds ready to be planted but first we'll need to till the earth and mix in some compost. Thankfully Kentucky has real dirt not the awful red clay we are used to in NC so hopefully digging in it will be a bit easier!

6- the dye studio/workshop is just about ready to go. I'll need to put in some work surfaces but I'll probably just use boards on top of saw horses (which is what I'm using now). Before winter we'll also need to insulate the workshop and eventually I'd like to run a water line under ground to the studio. Right now a garden hose will work but I'd like to have a water line in place before winter-- there is nothing more annoying than getting ready to work and then finding out that the water hose is frozen solid!

Farm Dreams

I know I'm not the only one out there who has always dreamed of living on a farm. In today's fast paced, high technology world the farm dream seems to be the perfect antithesis to our worldly woes. The farm reality is a bit different than the farm dream, of course, but I think that the same qualities that attract me to the farm dream are still part of the farm reality, just mixed in with mud, animal poo and sweat that don't necessarily show themselves in the dream version. Anyway, I've had this farm dream for a long time. As I've lived in cheap apartments as a college student and the suburbs as a newly wed I've held onto that dream. I've grown what I could in window boxes and shady backyards, read books like Living with Pigs and filled our corner of the neighborhood with the clucks of backyard chickens. And all the while I've been saving up pennies and dimes and putting them away in my Farm account. In mid-March we found out that Chris has been assigned to University of Kentucky, Lexington, for his residency. Medicine is much like the military in that they assign you to a hospital for residency and you don't have an choice. You can get the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge and refuse, or you say "yes sir" and you move to Kentucky. So even though we had never even visited Kentucky it is, suddenly, our new home. Thankfully Kentucky is perhaps the best state for living out our farm dream. The more I learn about Kentucky the more it seems to be the ideal place for us. So one week ago we drove to Lexington, met with a realtor, visited 7 small farms for sale and at the end of a very long day we walked through the door of our new home. As soon as we walked into the open kitchen and living space Chris was sold, and as soon as we caught a glimpse of the backyard with 3 acres of fenced in pasture, a big barn and a workshop (i.e. dye studio) I knew I was home.

So now we begin our Kentucky adventure where we are turning our farm dream into reality. We are very lucky that its a dream that we can make happen. I know its not something that everyone can do, especially so early in our lives. Whenever we tell people about our plans the response is either "oh...thats nice" (from the city dwellers who can't imagine living in the country) or "wow I wish we could do that! I don't even know where I would start..." So for those of you who are curious about the process of turning dream into reality I'm going to try to keep my blog up to date as we go through the challenges and joys of this new adventure!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Why I want to eat my pets (and why you should too)

This is a lengthy post and I won't be offended if you don't read it. Do take the time to read this much shorter and better written article about the ethics of meat eating and this one about the environmental impact of meat eating vs. vegetarianism.

I am and always have been a softhearted animal lover. So many people who know me are surprised when they find out that I have plans to raise livestock and, in the end, butcher that livestock for meat. They are even more shocked to find out that I've already killed and eaten ducks that we raised. I know it makes people squeamish and I respect that. Not everyone has to be comfortable with the idea of killing animals that you've known and loved. But the fact of the matter is, if you eat meat you are playing a role in the deaths of animals. Just because you never scratched that pig behind the ear or patted the cow on its rump doesn't change that.

Killing animals is not an evil thing, though. Its just a part of life. Things live and they die. Its only humans that ascribe ideas of good and bad to life and death and put more value on a long life than a short one. For animals it is not important to live forever. They do not dream and make plans for the future. They live in the moment and what is important to them is that the life they live is good, not how long it lasts. For an animal a good life is one that provides safety from physical harm, fear and stress, one where there is plenty of nutritious food to eat and room to exercise to stay fit and appropriate mental stimulus to prevent boredom. And a good life should end with a good death- one that is as pain and stress free as possible. A good life like this is difficult to find in the natural world where food is often scarce and danger is a constant presence, particularly for the animals we raise as livestock and which in the wild would be prey animals. It can also be difficult to come by in large, commercial factory farms where efficiency and profitability are valued more than the quality of life of the animals.

Ending the lives of animals is not bad. Causing them to have bad lives and/or bad deaths is. If we eat meat then by definition we are killing animals but that does not mean that we have to cause them to have bad lives. But it can be difficult to only eat animals who had good lives. One way is to buy meat from small farms, particularly if they are located nearby and you can visit the farm (often they happily give tours!) and see for yourself that the animals are treated well. This is probably the best solution for most people. For us, though, we want to be even more involved. At least for some of the meat we eat ( we'll continue to buy our beef from local farmers). And so we plan to raise our own sheep and pigs and turkeys and chickens and, after they have had a good life on our farm where they have been well fed, kept safe from danger and allowed the freedom to explore their worlds within the safety of their natural territories, then we will kill them in as pain and stress free a way as we can. And when that meat is served at our table we will know that eating it has not contributed to pain or misery for any creature.

That doesn't mean that it won't be hard to say goodbye to our friends. Or that we won't occasionally bond with an animal too closely to let them go. But it will be hard not because its wrong to kill them but because we will miss them. As humans we are filled with complex emotions; we have long memories and we can think about how much we could enjoy the company of the animal in the future. But those are selfish reasons.

Perhaps it would just be easier to avoid meat altogether. Then we aren't responsible for animals being treated poorly nor do we have to suffer the pain of losing their company in our lives. For some people vegetarianism is the right answer. But for me, vegetarianism (at least for ethical reasons--lets set aside religious or health reasons for a different discussion) isn't a solution, rather its a way to avoid the problem. Not eating meat avoids causing animals to have bad lives, but in the same way it does not cause animals to have good lives. If all people became vegetarians many breeds of animals simply would no longer exist. Dual purpose animals like wool sheep, dairy cows and chickens would continue to be kept (assuming we don't all turn vegan) but what use would we have for pigs or the breeds of cows and sheep best suited for meat. Who would raise turkeys if they no longer had a place on our thanksgiving tables or between our slices of sandwich bread? These animals no longer exist in the wild except for rare exceptions and for the most part could not survive without humans to care for them. And humans cannot be expected to care for them if they have no role. In my opinion life, followed by death, is better than no life at all.

For a long time eating meat has been seen as wasteful, gluttonous and environmentally and ethically irresponsible. That is because for most people eating meat means supporting factory farms. But that has less to do with the meat and more to do with a system of business practices. Those business practices can be changed and the best way to force that change to happen is by voting with our wallets. A vegetarian has no power in the eyes of a factory farm. That vegetarian is written off the list of possible customers and dismissed from thought. The only people to have any real power over the meat industry are its customers--meat eaters. If enough of us refuse to eat animals that have had bad lives or been killed in cruel ways and if we take our money and by meat from small, local farmers or raise the animals ourselves we are doing two positive things. We are sending a direct message to the meat industry that the only way to stay in business is to change their practices and at the same time we are putting our money into the pockets of small farmers, allowing them to not only stay in business but to grow and be able to offer good lives to more animals.

Including meat in your diet is important if you strive to eat locally. The benefits of eating locally are numerous. Food is fresher and therefore tastier and healthier. It is transported, stored and processed less and so requires less fossil fuel and other resources to fuel vehicles, operate processing plants and cool refrigerated storage facilities. Often purchasing directly from small farmers is only possible when done locally as their distribution is generally much more limited. But if you eat local it can be difficult to maintain a balanced diet without including meat. Most vegetarians supplement their diets by consuming soy products. These tend to be heavily processed and transported from far away. Its much harder to find a local tofu producer (at least in this country) than a local cow farmer. Most of the worlds lentils and beans, another excellent source of protein for vegetarians, comes from India, Canada, Brazil and China. While the US is the top produce of soy beans they are rarely eaten in their natural form but must undergo processing, packing and transportation before being consumed.

Baby Plants

About 3 weeks ago we started out first seeds for the season. We won't be able to start an outside garden until after we move which will make us a little late in getting the garden started this year, so we are starting things inside. We began with two long boxes filled with herbs and a pot of rosemary. These are all herbs that we like to use for cooking or tea. We saved some of the seeds from each seed pack for an outdoor herb garden once we have moved.The photos are in this order: Oregano, Thyme, Dill, Chammomile,Basil, Bergamont, Rosemary

I added to our indoor garden by planting some Brandywine Tomatoes (left) and Lavender (right).

The problem with friendly chickens... that when you leave the door open they'll come right in.

Chickens in the Rain

After a very dry month we finally got some good, soaking rain this week. In general the chickens don't like rain very much. When its raining they stay under the porch where its snug and dry. Until the sun goes down. Then they ignore all of the warm, dry perches under the porch, in the coop or in their covered run and insist on sleeping on the porch railing behind the grill. In the rain. In the winter when its cold we go outside after they have fallen asleep and transfer them to their coop so that we don't wake up to chick-sicles but now that its warmed up enough that they aren't in danger we have been letting them stay there. Moving them in the middle of the night tends to stress them out and locking them in the coop together when they don't want to be there has led to some unfortunate bullying and pecking. So during the rain storm earlier this week I just let them be, but not before I snuck a few photos. The blob of feathers near the bottom is Prudence with her head stuck underneath Imogene. They do this whenever it rains and sometimes its a different chicken who gets to shelter her head. We suspect it has something to do with which chicken is head of the hen house that week.

p.s. because it was dusk I couldn't get a clear photo without using the flash, but with the flash the background just turned black. So here is one of each.