Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Farmer's Work Is Never Done

We sold all our 500 bales of hay! This what we have left which we are saving for our critters.

A farmer’s work is never done,
All day long, thru dusk from dawn.
His back is sore, his hands are rough,
There never is quite time enough.

In spring he plows and tills the field,
Hoping for the biggest yield.
Makes neat rows, through aching heels,
Strings the nets and pounds in steel.

Warmer weather time to plant,
No more frost he prays and chants.
The soil is rich, his will is strong,
Together these two form a bond.

Summer brings a frantic drought,
Carry water, do not stand and shout.
The zucchini blooms but so do weeds,
Our farmer protects every seed.

Falls cool breeze brings cooler weather,
Many hands are quick to gather.
Pick and dig, peel and shuck,
Before it spoils, quick to pluck.

Even winter brings no sleep,
Time to plan and tend the sheep.
A farmer’s work is never done,
All day long, through dusk from dawn.


As I finally steal some time to sit down and write this blog, I am thinking about the goat fence I need to finish, the pullet brooder I need to set up for baby chicks, vet visits for kittens and puppy, hen lights, humidity levels in the incubator, owl protection plans, goat birthing supplies, greenhouse harvesting and the list goes on and on. I can only imagine the long "to do" list in Nate's head right now.  The farmer's work is never done, but every crop we pluck, chick we hatch, bale we sell makes it worthwhile.  There is something to be said about creating with your own hands and being able to provide for yourself. This is what we set out to do on SweetWater and we now are finally seeing all our hard work starting to come together.  As I said, it is hard constant work, but absolutely worth it -blisters and all. 

Speaking of hard work, I cannot go one step further in this blog without mentioning that we sold all our first batch of hay!!!! WOOHOO!!!  Big praises to Nate for bringing life back to all the used tractor and hay equipment. We were hesitant to even bale the one section that we did, but we are glad we did because it was such a great learning process.

Let's see here are few things we learned in the process.  1.We must use stronger waterproof twine next time...oy we lost a few bales to cheap twine. 2. The clothes you wear while lifting bales are important.  Smooth long sleeved and fully covered clothes are best.  The seeds from Legend Lespedeza can be a real pain to get off fabric.  Plus I paid the price of wearing shorts one day with some hay rash and poison ivy. A mistake I will not make twice! 3. We will have to build the pole barn before our next big cutting.  Tarps worked fine to cover the 500 bales from the weather, but we definitely will need better storage come Spring. 4. We need help loading and unloading the bales.  Considering we only baled one small section of fields and that yielded about 500 bales...having to load and unload over 2000 bales with our own two hands is going to be quite a task!  So we did some research and found some bale baskets that would make loading 2000 bales easier.  If you can spare a dollar or two, you can donate to our bale basket wish list on our GoFundMe page http://www.gofundme.com/4jyjj4 .  Thank so much for the donations we have received so far!!! We have received over $300 on our GoFundMe page and some generous face to face donations from our friends and families.  THANK YOU SO MUCH!  Every dollar makes a big difference for us.

Besides the joy of our first successful haying, I loved how much fun we had selling the hay.  Although most of our sales came from our Craiglists' posting, we did load up the truck once and stand with signs and sell some out of a parking lot.  Fortunately, we finished haying just in time for Halloween and Fall decorating time, so our parking lot venture was a small success due to eager decorators.  Mostly I loved all the people we met when we sold the hay.  We made some new friends along the way - a cool young couple raising Alpacas, a kind Italian gentleman growing figs, some fun couples living off the grid and wanting to do some hay bale gardening, a nice family with the cutest little girl, who had a blast meeting all our critters, and of course I was super excited to come full circle dropping off our last load of hay at the house of our new friends who got this whole farm thing underway for us by selling us 13 silly chickens.  What a great surprise!!  I knew I remembered the address and when we pulled up I knew for sure that about 8 months prior we purchased our first farming endeavor at this house.  It was great fun catching up about the chickens and seeing how their farm has grown since we last saw them.  I love how life works sometimes.  We decided to go forward with baling despite some reservations and because we did our little farm's world opened up in great ways.

 Despite the success of our first hay venture, we decided not to do one last cutting.  Granted nature helped with that decision bringing us a surprise cold spell and frost.  We probably could have squeaked out one more cutting still, but we felt it is time better spent taking the lessons we learned from our first cut and prepping for our next cut in the Spring.  A little time spent prepping and fine tuning means a whole lot less headaches come Spring.  Winter is coming, the weather is changing and a farmer's work is never done.  We have plenty of other tasks we must do before the cold weather decides to come and sit for a while. I guess it all part of the circle of life on the farm.

A circle we have come to know very well these past two months.  It is amazing how much more in tune we have become with life and death on the farm.  Sure we both have experienced those moments when we were part of the regular workforce, but it is seems so much more constant living on the farm.  Although that sounds like a bad thing, there is something powerful about being able to embrace loss and rebirth in such a natural way.  Having lost my father a little over a year ago, I appreciate how much farm life has helped in the healing process - in all its brutal and pure honesty.

October brought loss to the farm.  We lost our sweet turkey tom, who would follow me around during feeding and sneak little bites out of the bucket.  The greedy owl tried to pluck him from the tree, but of course the owl couldn't hold the turkey's weight.  I found him on the ground the next morning during feeding. The guineas and mamma turkey were lost for a few days without him. It was sad.  We lost our egg bound guinea.  We did things only farmers would do to help her get the egg out, but she still struggled to walk. We nursed her until she could wattle around and put her back with the other guineas.  She did well for a few weeks and seemed very happy to be back with her flock.  In the end the Phoenix rooster did what I had trouble doing and culled her.  He pecked her head because she was weak and sickly.  I am happy she was able to be with her flock before she died quickly at the rooster's beak. A far better death than alone in a cage.  It was sad. Finally and perhaps the one that hit the heart the most was the loss of Xander, our beloved German Shepherd.  He was 14 years old and had been all over the US with me.  I thought I would have to put him down a year ago when I was living in NH, but SweetWater brought life back into his old bones.  He ran, swam, played and followed me all over the farm for another 8 months of his life.  It was probably his favorite place he has ever been and the best way to end his days.  Although he is still missed by all of us, I love that the last thing he was doing was running with his buddies and having a good ole time.  Sometimes our bodies just are not as young as our spirits.  So now he rests in a beautiful spot overlooking the creek and sweeping farm views.  Oh and he has the sweetest turkey tom to keep him company.

"Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides." ~ Lao Tzu 

Although death is a part of farm life, we have found that life has a way of overshadowing the loss.  November seems to have been a balm for our wounded hearts as we are now bursting at the seams with baby critters!  I call them demotivators because it is hard to get out of the house with all their cute little antics. Of course, new life translates to more work for the farmer.  Our work is never done and it does not hold to a schedule.

Just ask our 12 brand new baby chicks, who decided that the best time to hatch was between 2 AM and 6 AM while my mom and Sam were visiting!  We knew they would be hatching on day 21ish, but we didn't know when.  Well Nate & I were awoken to bird chirping which is not that uncommon a sound in our household of 20 something grown chickens and game birds roaming the property. This time we were on alarm and we knew we had a brand new baby chick awaiting us in the incubator.  So the rush to get the little lady into the brooder under the heat lamp began.  I ended up having to stick some black socks in the small plastic tub in order to keep the first little girl company.  That worked for a bit until I decided to put a feather duster in the box.  The chick cuddled up to the feather duster and seemed to calm down quite a bit.  

I was desperately hoping we would have at least one more chick to keep her company. Quite honestly, I was convinced we wouldn't have any hatch because I put the eggs in upside down initially.  Fortunately for Backyardchickens.com and one of my many farming books, I came across the tidbit about how to place the eggs.  You would think there would be more specific instructions about that.  I guess I turned them over in time so I didn't ruin their air pocket.  Phew...this baby making can be stressful stuff.  Placing the eggs the right way, turning them, watching humidity & temperature...how on earth do the chickens do it without all the technology!?!?! Somehow we managed to hatch 12 out of 18 successfully. Of course I probably woke my poor mom up a million times as I trudged throughout the living room in the middle of the night moving newly hatched chicks to the brooder.  It got to the point where I would call out, "We have a black one. We have a yellow one.."  Even with the interruptions, we had a great time during the visit and I know they got a kick out of all the baby critter cuteness.  We had to make sure Sam didn't sneak Hercules (our new kitten) into his bag when they left because they hit it off so well.

So our 1st generation hatch was a success.  We love the fact that half of the chicks are black and our dominant rooster, Agatha, is black.  There is no doubt he has been busy! Of course we have to mention that with life is death though...we lost one who was positioned badly in the shell and too weak to hatch all the way.  Even with help, she did not make it in the end.  We had two that never made it to the hatching stage and three that were not fertilized. Overall, the whole process was just amazing, even with a few losses.  Now we have 12 little fluffy chicks living in our bathroom (well for a few more days and then they move to the garage) and making us laugh.

"Chicks living in the bathroom?" Well, with a cat and two playful kittens roaming the hallways, we could not leave the chicks unsupervised.  We don't have to willingly invite death to farm if we can help it.  So until they are about a week or so old the chicks will stay behind the closed doors of the bathroom.  Meanwhile, our brand new little tumbleweeds (kittens) are on the other side of the door participating in a never ending play session.

Here is the quick back story on why we ended up with our new kittens, Hercules & Hazel.  Edgar,our 14 year old cat and kingpin is in his retirement years.  The mice got word that the resident cat only hunts when he feels like it.  So the garage became a scene from a Disney movie with Simon doing his best at catching the mice. He is not quite as graceful about it though. So he also redecorated the garage while he was in hot pursuit.  With that, Nate said, "barn cats!"  A few weeks later we have two cute as can be fluff heads, who spend the majority of their day pouncing on our feet, wrestling with each other, and practicing mousing.  Of course, they are too little to be outdoors in this cold weather...so we just have to cuddle them inside for now.  Edgar is less than impressed by these two little minions invading his territory. Give it a month and I think we will see him playing with them too! (The whole time I have been writing this section of the blog Nate has been snuggling on them and laughing at their silliness).

 Oh, but we cannot escape the silliness by going outside because we have the prettiest little lady awaiting us with her sweet older brothers by her side. We had planned to wait until after Christmas to get another pup, but our pup had other plans.  We were on our way to get some more turkeys from this nice Vietnamese couple that sells us exotic and game birds.

We purchased our new turkeys, Polish (fluff heads) & Sebright chickens to add to our new Phoenix chickens in the truck when the woman mentioned they had Pyrenees puppies and did we want want one for free.  Our hearts sank a bit because Xander's loss was still so close.  We declined and went on our way with our new batch of birdies.  Well a day or two passed...Nate did some research on the Pyrenees and we just new she would be a great fit for the farm.  They were raised to protect livestock. Plus Simon needed a friend to help expend some of his energy.  Truman is a more low key buddy and Xander used to run with Simon.  The poor guy has been going stir crazy.  So we picked Ms. Ginger up 2 weeks later and she now rules the roost.  She is a smart little lady and is so sweet.  She can be stubborn, thus the name Ginger Snap, but that only means she will fit in well here.

Before I finish this post, I wanted to update you on more life we have been nurturing on the farm.  Our greenhouse has been blooming like crazy.  The temperature may be in the 50s or 60s outside, but usually holds a 90 degree temperature in the greenhouse.  We might use it as our personal sauna during the chilly temperatures.  We have some big plans for installing a water system that involves fish (Tilapia), but I will elaborate on that in our next update.

 I'll have to mention the new toys we found or heard about on Craigslist in my next post too.

Here I have been talking about new baby critters and I almost forgot to mention we may have a new baby goatie on the way.  We think Brigitta is going to be a momita sometime in December!!  So I am reading up on birthing babies.  A farmer's work is never done. We will keep you posted on this exciting news!!!  (A big thanks to Mica for being so helpful as I learn how to raise goats!!!)  Nate & I have been so lucky to have so much support from our new and old friends and of course our families.  We hope you enjoy our updates!  Thanks for dropping by and catching up with us.  Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  We know we have a lot to be thankful for during our first year as farmers!

Thanks for visiting us on the farm!

Nathan, Lily & Our Critter Crew

*Remember to donate on our GoFundMe page (http://www.gofundme.com/4jyjj4) if you like what we are doing and can spare a few bucks.   

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Help Our Farm & Save Our Backs

Hello family, friends, & supporters,  (DONATE HERE: http://www.gofundme.com/4jyjj4)

We are posting this because we need your help. Read on to see how you can help. We have been working hard over the past few months here on SweetWater to develop a sustainable farm. Our hope is to create a place that family and friends will want to visit and be part of as the farm grows. We have accomplished a lot so far by reusing, recycling, and searching for free or low cost options to build items such as a greenhouse, chicken coops, goat pens, and rebuilding hay equipment. We love finding ways to accomplishing our goals that require a little "do it yourself" and "thinking outside the box" methods, but sometimes we realize we could use some help.

After finishing our first hay cutting we realized we need your help. We opted to only bale a small section of the property in order to test the used equipment that Nate had fixed and rebuilt. In the end,the two of us collected and unloaded over 500 bales of hay by hand in about two days. Normally, we would bale all the fields; which would give around a total of 2000 small square bales (approx 50-60lbs each). That is a lot of lifting for two people!!!

How can you help? Nate and I have researched options and found one of the cheaper, but effective hay helpers known as a bale basket. This basket is attached to the back of the baler and the hay drops directly into the basket. No need to lift and load it from the fields by hand. Ideally, we would like to buy two so that we could switch them out as we are baling. This would allow one of us to continue baling; while the other unloaded the full basket. Brand new, one bale basket would cost about $4000 including transport costs. So our goal is for two bale baskets would be $8000. Of course we would be grateful to acquire one (new or used), but since haying is very weather dependent the faster we can bale and load the more likely we are to get quality hay. (DONATE HERE: http://www.gofundme.com/4jyjj4)

In order to grow this farm and continue our goal of sustainable living is largely dependent on funds received from hay sales. We want to use the money from the hay to put back into this beautiful farm. Your donations will help support that goal and also save our backs & shoulders. Plus, you will save us a few hay rashes at that too!

Thanks for your support & no matter the donation amount you can give, we appreciate it.

Visit GoFundMe or click link to DONATE: http://www.gofundme.com/4jyjj4

Always Nate, Lily & Our Critter Crew
SweetWater Diaries

How the bale basket works:

Click Here to see bale basket in action in this YouTube Video.

DONATE HERE: http://www.gofundme.com/4jyjj4

Monday, September 16, 2013

SweetWater's Going Green

Welcome back to SweetWater! We have been busy working away the past few weeks and have a lot to share.  Not only are we cutting hay, but we built an impressive greenhouse that will hopefully keep us growing well into the winter months.  All in all, the greenhouse is 65 feet long and 16 feet wide. So we have plenty of room to really expand our produce.  I am happy to say that we found a place that sells heirloom seeds which means that most of our plants will produce viable seeds.  Nate and I would personally prefer to avoid GMO foods like the infamous "Big M."  Most of their products are designed to only grow for one planting and the seeds are useless.  We might have a few naughty plants in there, but overall we should have a good amount of heirloom varieties growing.

When we started this project, I was thinking we would grab a few PVC pipes, some plastic, and create a basic structure to keep those critters & bugs out of the garden.  Happily, Nate felt it was worth the time away from working on the tractor to build a more permanent structure.  Now we have a greenhouse that should weather the elements and put up a good fight against the invading goats, chickens, & dogs.

Even though we had to invest about $1000 toward the materials and a week of our time to build the greenhouse, we saved ourselves thousands of dollars by doing it ourselves. Our final product would most likely cost about $6000.00 to buy and have constructed for us.  So in the end the money and the time were totally worth it.  Plus if we get a few good crops that we can cook, freeze, can, and supplement animal feed then we will have earned our money back in no time.

Nate constantly amazes me with his ideas. Even though I often scratch my head in the beginning stages of projects trying to understand his plans, he always seems to make these amazing cost effective structures that really work. Let's just look at the greenhouse to see what I am talking about.

The Construction Phase:

We already had the raised beds and Topsy Turvy Planters constructed using free pallets & A-frames we found on Craigslist.  We brought up fresh soil and sand from around the creek.  This allowed us to save money on support posts, rebar, PVC pipes, ventilation fans and greenhouse grade plastic.  Once we were done putting down the soil, Nate cut the rebar and drilled it through treated 4x4s using an electric drill contraption he made. The drill pounded the rebar into the ground; which saved Nate's arms from having to manually pound the rebar into the ground.  Besides making it easier, it also made the job go by super fast.  Meanwhile, I got to play on the chop saw, cut the PVC pipes, and glue them together in order to span the width of the greenhouse. Nate continued to frame the door, fan windows, and back wall.  I stuck the pipes on the rebar creating an arc over the greenhouse. Then I screwed the pipes to the top of the 4x4 roof beams running lengthwise.  Nate added some more soil along the inside wall so I could grow more plants on the ground and then we were on to the final stages of the greenhouse.

The Finishing Touches & Final Product:

To finish the greenhouse we had to drape the 6 mil UV protected greenhouse plastic over the arced pipes.  Of course this is when our perfectly clear skies decided we needed a few gusts of wind.  So we had to secure the sides down quickly.  We sandwiched the plastic between the 4x4 ground supports and treated 2x4s.  Nate closed off the two ends with boards which also secured the plastic on the front and back.  He designed a swinging door using our scrap pieces, installed front and back fans, and added temperature controlled vents on each end.  Finally, we realized that due to the size of the greenhouse we needed to install an attic exhaust vent in the middle of the structure.  This part was tricky, but fun.  I lifted Nate in the bucket of the Case tractor and very carefully moved him over the roof of the greenhouse.  Definitely a good way to learn how to operate the bucket controls.  One mistake and I would have destroyed some pricey greenhouse plastic.  Fortunately, the exhaust vent mission was a success.

Nate and I both added some final touches to complete the greenhouse.  He ran electrical lines through so we could run the fans and added a thermostat that automatically turns the fans on and off depending on the temperature.  Meanwhile, I got to have some fun playing with paint.  Besides painting the front and back of the greenhouse, I painted a door sign on some scrap wood and made these fun little stone vegetable markers.

Nate and I are pretty proud of the final product.  Oh and Nate is going to install a drip system from a rain water collection tank we are going to set up.  That will help save us some trips to fill up our house water tank and give me more time to weed, prune, and babysit the attention seeking critters. Silly goaties! As of now, I just finished planting seeds yesterday. I already have some seeds sprouting. I am excited because I have a bunch of vegetables and herbs I have never used before.  This means we will get to try out new recipes down the road.  Of course now we have farm fresh eggs from our chickens and therefore lots of new options for our omelets! 

Before I sign off, I have to share with you our Topsy Turvy Mania.  Our neighbor mentioned she liked using Topsy Turvies for growing her tomatoes.  Nate and I happened to find some Topsy Turvies for about $1 at Big Lots so we scooped up a bunch and gave them a try.  We have been pretty impressed so far.  Although they are marketed for mainly tomatoes, we took the majority of our last crop out of the beds and transferred them over to the Topsy Turvies.  A lot of the crops are doing better than they did in the bed!!  So as of now we are Topsy Turvy converts.  We will keep you posted on how they hold out through the next crop.

Life is always busy here on SweetWater and we are happy that you are sharing our adventures with us.  We hope to keep the farm thriving and growing as grandpa & grandma Palmer had envisioned years ago.  I know some of our friends and family have wanted to help us in our goal to develop a sustainable working farm.  I just added a donate button to the blog and website.  Of course we would welcome the donations and would use them towards maintaining and creating a sustainable farm. We also welcome suggestions and ideas.  I am always up for gardening tips and do it yourself projects.  So if your donations come in ideas, tips, and suggestions, we would love that too!

Wondering about some of our upcoming sustainable living projects? Here are just a few projects on our horizon: incorporate alternative energy sources (solar, wind, & water) to the farm, and develop innovative ways to use the hay bales (hay bale gardening & hay insulated barns/buildings). 

Well, first we have to get this hay cutting thing under our belts then we will be off on the next project. Next time I will fill you in on the hay cutting process.  I can't wait!!!

Thanks for visiting us on the farm!

Nathan, Lily & Our Critter Crew

Friday, August 30, 2013

Free Range Days Are Here On SweetWater!

Welp, I may have fallen behind on the blog, but we have made a lot of great steps forward on the farm. So Today I thought I would take a moment to try to catch you up a bit about life on SweetWater.

A month or so ago we were wishing for rain & now we are grateful for clear skies.  In fact just a few weeks ago, we could have just stepped out the door and gone for a little swim in the lower hay field (although it would have been a pretty mucky swim).  The constant heavy rain had caused the creek to burst over its banks and flood the fields.  According to our neighbor, who came to check and make sure we didn't float away, it was the highest he had seen it in 60 years.  Nate and I woke up early and at my nervous critter momma request, we went to check on the goats to make sure that the creek hadn't flooded their pen.  As we were walking over, the rain slowed down and sadly we watched at least 4 beautiful trees uproot and get carried downstream.  As their roots lifted from the earth, the sound they made was almost like they were crying in pain. We now have a few new gaps along the creek.  Nate and I hope to remedy that in the near future by planting some vines, bushes, and trees. If all goes well we will help firm up the river bank, protect the trees, and maintain the integrity of the creek. 

We have been busy the past few weeks fixing and planning for the coming weeks.  As you have probably inferred from the title of this blog, our little crew has earned some more freedom.  As much as I wanted to keep them protected from the big bad world of hawks, owls, wild dogs, and bad beasties...it was time to let them leave the coop (pun intended). So our oldest group, the chickens, were the first to earn a little extra freedom during the day.  It took about an hour or so before they were out of the coop and exploring their new fine dining choices.  Obviously they loved it!  I was a bit concerned about the dogs, but Nate had done a good job of teaching the dogs the chickens are off limits.  Plus Agatha, our dominant rooster, has developed a bit of an attitude since the baby birds moved next door to the chicken coop.  So I don't think the dogs want to get pecked on the head.  Trust me the dogs have more to worry about now since the goats are all free ranging too and Captain finds it appropriate to give them a head butt from time to time.

Of course there are many benefits to free ranging the animals besides all the amusing antics of the critters.  The animals are happier and healthier with the freedom.  It helps cut down on feed and maintenance of the coop/pen.  It helps with fertilizing the land (and cars/ doorway/ garage).  One of the biggest benefit so far is the decrease of grasshoppers and ticks around the house.  That being said it also has some draw backs too.  I am constantly having to "baby sit" and make sure everyone is getting along.  The big chickens like to pick on the baby birds.  The goats like to sneak in the garage and get into the grain.  Everybody likes to get in the garden. Looks like our green house project just got bumped up on the list.  More on that in my next post. 

One of my friends posted an article about her 2 1/2 year old daughter going through stages of disequilibrium and equilibrium.  I think those stages apply to free ranging on the farm too (plus lots of other real life scenarios as well).  The first day everything seemed copacetic, but by day two we were definitely in the early stages of disequilibrium.  Chickens were pecking Guinea hens on the heads, goats were climbing on tractor parts, dogs were barking at goats and everyone was in the garden (I repeated this because it seems to be a reoccurring trend).  I am pretty sure Nate and I both had a moment envisioning goat and chicken dinners to help ease the chaos.  Thank goodness we could put all the critters away with a little bribery of feed. 

Over the last few weeks, we have lost a Guinea and a pheasant to an owl, our dominant rooster, Agatha, has pecked me pretty hard in legs twice because he was in a panic about being fed first, I've had a turkey jump in my arms, a chicken jump on my back, and you guessed it goats in the garden.  I have to tell you, that is just part of the process.  This past week Nate and I are starting to feel the equilibrium set in again.  The goats are venturing into the fields more, the chickens are leaving the baby birds alone, the baby birds have learned to roost in the trees by the house (away from the owls), and the dogs enjoy herding (chasing) the various critter friends.  The garden still gets an unwelcome visitor every so often, but Nate and I found a way to make it more difficult for the critters to eat too much while we get the green house finished. (Again, more on that in my next post). 

Now we can just sit back and laugh at their antics again.  I must say it is pretty amusing to see the goats playing king of the hill on the trailer, a chicken walk by the front door, or a billy goat sneak in the house every so often.  I expect we will encounter some more growing pains, but that just part of farming. Sometimes you just have to figure it out as you go.

Speaking of keeping equilibrium, I will have to cut this post short because I have to feed and put the critters to bed soon.  Trust me a regular schedule makes all the difference in the world.  They may not have clocks and watches, but those critters definitely have a concept of time.  If I am late on my feeding schedule, they will let me know.

Before I end this post, I wanted to mention how excited Nate and I have been to have some visitors lately.  I have to give a big thanks to my brother for all his help when he came out to visit.  While Nate's shoulder was out of commission, Todd helped put up the fence and set up the second coop for the baby birds.  The baby birds were happy to be able to spread their wings and move about more.  Plus it gave our nosey big chickens a reason to hem and haw about their new neighbors.  It was a great visit and we look forward to him visiting again. 

Also a big thanks goes out to Uncle David for delivering Grandma Sue's love seat.  It came just in time for my brother's visit; which meant we were able to offer him a comfortable place to sit and rest after a hard days work.  The couch is the perfect size for the bunk house and we are grateful to Grandma Sue and family for thinking of us.  We wished Uncle David could of have stayed longer, but we were glad he could share in some of the progress we have made since his last visit. 

Nate and I are excited because we have had a lot of friends and family express interest in coming and visiting us on SweetWater.  We hope that they will be able to find some free time in their schedules and drop on by the farm.  We love that others have been able to sense how much fun we have been having here on the farm and want to share that with us. The gate is always open for family and friends.  If you are in the area or want to take a trip to visit us as the farm grows, please feel free to drop us a line.  We could always use an extra hand, if you are willing, or just come on over and enjoy the scenery for a few days.

I hear a rooster crowing outside, a turkey chirping, and a goat crying...so I better get going.  Check back soon because I still have so much to share.  Nate is days away from our first hay cutting, the tractor is almost better than new, I have been playing mad scientist (natural scientist) in the kitchen, we are in the process of building our first green house, & Nate and I have gone Topsy Turvy crazy!!!

Thanks for visiting us on the farm! Have a great Labor Day weekend! 
Nathan, Lily & Our Critter Crew

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mishaps & Raindrops On Roses

Greetings from Captain Von Trapp!

Well part of the promise of this blog was to share not only our adventures on the farm, but our misadventures and mishaps too.  I guess as we get older we realize that often those "that's not how we planned it" moments just happen sometimes.  Even if they are down right unpleasant at times, we often learn the most from our mishaps.  Most of the times those "not so good" events lead to better than expected results. Yet as Dr. Seuss so eloquently told us..."sometimes they don't."  Sometimes these road bumps serve a purpose to remind us to slow down and appreciate what we have, the ones we love, and what we have accomplished.  Life can get busy, we can't plan everything, nor should we try. This week life told Nathan and I to slow down a bit.  Perhaps not in the best way, but it gave me a moment to pause and to appreciate all the good that has happened to Nathan and I this year.  We certainly appreciate all the support & love from you all as well.

Although Tuesday started out as an "it's not my day" kind of day for me,  Nathan ended up getting top billing for the day.  So we will start with his mishap.  Who knew getting the mail could be so dangerous?  Well when you involve slippery roads, naughty neighborhood dogs, and a four-wheeler the odds slip from your favor.  It is safe to say the odds were not in Nathan's favor this past Tuesday.

It was Tuesday evening and we were wrapping up a busy day here on SweetWater.  Nathan had the Dexta up and running the day before and had spent Tuesday readjusting the timing on the tractor so that it would run smoothly.  He wanted to do one more check at our mailbox because he was expecting the new steering wheel to arrive that day.  If you have been to SweetWater you understand why we take the four-wheeler to the mailbox. For those of you who have not visited yet, the house is set back quite a distance from the road.  It is a nice little walk to the mailbox, but if you have a package with tractor parts the distance walking back to the house feels like it has tripled.  I made the mistake once of walking to the mailbox and ended up lugging back what initially started out as a thirty pound package and I am absolutely convinced somehow got 5 times heavier by the time I finally reached the bottom of the hill by the house.  Anyway, Nathan jumped on the four-wheeler to do a quick check before we went to check on the goats.  After 5 or 10 minutes he rode back down with a serious expression on his face.  

I came to find out that while he was checking the mail he noticed some dogs on the property.  Unfortunately, we have a lot of wild dogs in the area.   As much as I love critters, we have to be careful because the wild dogs have been known to come on to people's property and wipe out an entire coop of chickens or herd of goats.  So we have to encourage them to stay away.  Nate was going to run them off when his back tire slipped on wet loose gravel.  Long story shorter...the four-wheeler flipped, Nate fell off and his shoulder took the brunt of his fall.  Thank goodness the four-wheeler did not land on him.  We decided better be safe than sorry, so we spent the evening in the ER. After some X-Rays, we discovered Nathan separated his shoulder from his clavicle.  We were glad to know for sure, but it will be an expensive trip to find out that we were already doing all that we could do to help it heal...ice, sling, pain medication, and rest.  I am happy to report after two days a lot of the swelling has gone down and he is able to move it a little better.  I will give him credit, although I know he would rather be out working on this and that, he is taking it easy and really resting his arm.  Life told us to slow down...we listened.  I am grateful that Nathan is doing better and the accident was not worse than it was.

Well after Nathan's incident my "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" doesn't seem so bad after all... even if it did involve chicken poo. Regardless, I promised mishaps and life on the farm provides many opportunities for mishaps.  Nathan and I have definitely encountered a few along the way so far.

If you know anything about goats, they are like preschoolers - cute as buttons, but naughty as can be.  Of course our house is now littered with books about homesteading, raising goats, raising chickens, and farm equipment.  I have read many tales of how goats will make you laugh, drive you bonkers, and make you love them again in one fell swoop.  Well our darling little herd reminded me this past Tuesday of one of the cardinal rules of goat keeping. CLOSE the gate completely even if you are just stepping out of the pen for a second.  What started out as a quick refilling of the water buckets ended up as a thirty minute game of follow the leader.  At this point in the day, my spirits were still high.  So I was amused by our three boy goats and their antics.  I was also happy to see that our new billy, Captain Von Trapp, was so gentle and happily followed me around as I finished up my chores and then right back into the pen.  The little boys were a bit more challenging and the girls trying to see if I had more treats did not make it much easier.  After some failed attempts of me picking up goats and putting them back where they belonged...I FINALLY got everyone back in place.  Well until Friedrich decided to show off his new skill of jumping over the wooden gate. He is our official trickster of the bunch.  Joke was on me...just as I was ready for another goat chase...he jumped back in his pen.  Good one Friedrich!

I should have called it a day after my morning with our silly little cherubs, but I decided to not leave well enough alone. You see after finally getting some much needed rain, I decided I needed to give the baby game birds a better rain shelter.  The day before I had found some scrap wood and built a basic box that would last until we moved them in with the chickens.  I placed it in the coop and the birds seemed to like it.  I should have left it at that.  I didn't.

After talking to Nathan, I was worried about them still getting wet.  I decided to try and rotate the box. MISTAKE. See.. since I knew it was temporary, I used particle board or as Nathan and I call it "fall-aparticle board."  Think about any piece of furniture you have bought from Target or Wal-Mart.  It is not fancy, but it does what you want it to until you try to move it.  Same concept here.  I picked it up and tried to turn my bird box...completely fell apart.  Let's just say that if the baby pheasants hadn't heard enough colorful language from Nathan building the tractor, I added to their lexicon.

Yup..chicken poo
Obviously, I should have stopped there, but another rainstorm was brewing and I could not leave the baby birds without some sort of shelter.  I had to get creative and I had no desire to even look at particle board at the present moment.  I grabbed the plastic storage bin top I was using as a floor for the birds and set it up as a make-shift shelter.  It was humid. My hair had slipped in my face and I was getting sweat in my eyes. Lovely, I know...but it got worse.  I wiped the hair out of my eyes and managed to rub chicken poo across my forehead into my hair.  UGH!!!  Okay... I got the message.  I was done for the day.  Well after my mini meltdown, a quick shower, and Nathan patiently listening to me spouting off and then making me laugh.  I finally got the message...
The next day, I found an easier way to give them a shelter using two of the lids, some shavings, and an old bath mat.  As you can tell by the picture, the baby birds love it.  Like I said, often our mishaps lead us to better solutions.  This was a lot less work for me, will be easy to clean (bird poo remember), and provides a great shelter for the birds until we move them to the coop.

Turns out it wasn't just Nathan and me who had a bad Tuesday. Poor Truman, our black lab, learned a painful lesson too!  He made the mistake of chasing one of the baby goats and of course got a lecture from us about acceptable behavior.  Well our billy took it upon himself to reinforce that lesson.  As I was trying to get all the goats back in their pen on Tuesday, Captain Von Trapp decided to have a quick but effective conversation with Truman.  I turned around to see poor "Who me? Trumie" receive a billy goat head butt to the side.

OUCH!  Truman can be a little slow to learn most of the time, but I am fairly sure he got the message.  Seems like all the dogs quickly gained a healthy respect for the goats as soon as the billy arrived.  With horns like these, it is a pretty simple message to learn.  They still love to come out and "help" with the goats, but they do it from a safe distance now.

So mishaps happen here on SweetWater. We definitely have bad days here on the farm, but while we are licking our wounds or healing our egos (in Truman's case) good things are happening just outside the door.  While we were recovering from this week we noticed a lot, discovered some great connections, and had time to just catch up with each other and our family & friends.

We realized the goats led us to a few great things.  We were very lucky to find their previous owner on Craigslist. Besides selling us some great goats and being super helpful, she makes goat milk soaps & scrubs, and sells goat meat.  I bought some of the soaps and they are fantastic.  I highly recommend trying them out.  Nate and I would love to sell some baskets with "SweetWater Treats" one day and these would be a great addition.  Plus maybe eventually perhaps one day, but don't quote me on this...we might want to have our own goat meat.  So we plan on buying some from her and seeing if we like it...but like I said...MAYBE we might try.

Oh and now that we have goats we finally have the start of a pond!  While Nate was clearing up some of the fallen logs for the goat pen, he managed to get the dirt in the right place to hold some water by the garden/goat area.  It still needs some work to ensure that it will not just drain away, but it has held water for the past few days.  Hopefully, we can get it finished up soon, plant some trees around it, and let the grass grow back.  It will be a nice little hidden addition to the property.

I know this post covers how life can throw you curve balls and things don't always work out as planned.  This is all very true, but I cannot end this post without talking about another powerful force that has a way of rearranging your plans.  I eluded to it earlier during my goating misadventure...and feel I need to take a moment to acknowledge it here.  You see, if you have ever owned an animal, you will at some point realize who is actually in charge.  Yup, they are.  This week alone we were reminded twice of who runs the show on SweetWater.
Surprise I'm a boy - call me Aggie.

Example #1 The Goats:  Nathan and I made two nice pens. One for the girls & One for the boys.  We wanted the boys to stay with the Billy so he does not get lonely.  Friedrich, our jumper, decided otherwise and jumped out of his pen and in with the girls.  (Don't worry. He is a wether (fixed)).  He was with the girls when we got him and is buddies with our little tom boy, Briggita.  As Nathan put it, "You might as well just leave him there, he is just going to do it again anyway."  So much for our plans on that matter. Oh and the goats decided when we should introduce them to the dogs too.  We had a plan of bringing one dog in at a time in an organized fashion.  The goats decided it was more fun if they came out of the pen and met the dogs all at once.  Thanks guys!

Example #2 The Chickens:  Nathan and I have been talking about when we should start free ranging the chickens. I was thinking in a few more weeks.  I was planning on letting them out when we were outside working and putting them in when we were not around. Agatha, our dominant rooster, apparently feels differently and has been letting himself in and out for the past few days now.  Welp, I guess that decision is made for us.

 Whether plans change, decisions are made for us, or we have a set back, Nathan and I know that is just part of life here on the farm.  Plus there is plenty to look forward to over the next few weeks.  We are excited for some family visiting (maybe even a few friends too)!  The tractor is almost ready to go and we can test out the hay equipment (maybe even attempt our first hay cutting).  Oh and we are counting down the days until we get our first farm fresh eggs.  Of course, I expect the critters will keep us on our toes and make us laugh a lot.  As you can see, even with a few bumps and bruises, life is still sweet on SweetWater.

Truman is ready to try and play with those goats again...just a little further away this time.

Thanks for stopping by the farm!  See you again soon.

Nathan, Lily & Our Critter Crew

Interested in the Goat Milk Soap & Scrubs, check out http://www.greenerpasturesproducts.com/

Monday, July 15, 2013

Rain Dances, Machines, & More Machines

After many many rain dances, we finally have rain.  You can almost hear the critters, plants, & grass sigh with relief.  We needed it and although it didn't last long, we'll take what we can get.

Not only does the rain bring nourishment to the plants, cool the air down a bit, but it also gives me some time to sit down and update the blog.

I learned my first rule of blogging, never   promise updates in a week or so.  Farm life can easily consume your time and by the time you settle in at night you are ready for a tasty beverage and a good movie.  Blogging is furthest from your mind.  Blogging rule #1: leave a little mystery for when you might post next.  It is a lot more realistic.  Trust me...I am about 30 blog posts behind based on my initial promises.  So I officially wipe the slate clean...and I'll leave it to the weather to predict my next blog post.

Okay, back to SweetWater!  Been busy little bees here.  All you have to do is step outside and you can see SweetWater is bustling with life.  It has been fun watching the transformation.  Nate & I often find ourselves stopping and catching our thoughts.  Amazed at how much we have accomplished in such a short time.  Pretty "Sweet" if I do say so myself.

Speaking of accomplishments, Nate has been making amazing progress on the Super Dexta.  Of course it has been one of those projects where you open something up to fix it and realize you have two more parts you have to fix before you can get to your original fix.  Given the desperate TLC this tractor has needed, I am surprised I have not heard more colorful languages filling the air.  Nate really deserves a lot of credit on this project.  He takes his time and focuses on doing it right.  So far we got the tractor all painted up and he started putting the parts back on her earlier this week.  

Then he was able to finally get her started up for the first time since we bought it and I am happy to say it starts without using the glow plug and runs pretty clean.  He was worried we might have to do an engine rebuild but looks like we are in the clear.  Unfortunately, once running, he realized the clutch will not disengage and was suspicious of the fork and or throw out bearing being damaged.  Well, he got the engine/trans separated and found the cause.  This has a dual stage clutch, one for the transmission and one for the PTO.  The trans/drive disk was obliterated and not much left on the PTO disk either.  So he ordered the rebuild kit and got it all back together by end of the week.  Now he is putting the finishing touches on the electrical which needed to be completely replaced.  Here is a list of all the new parts that we have purchased for the Super Dexta thus far.

Owner and Parts Manual
Ignition Switch
Proofmeter and Cable
Oil Pressure Gauge
Rebuilt Water Pump
Water Temp Gauge
Glow Plug
Remote Single Spool Hydraulic Valve Assembly 
PTO Seal
Misc. Bolts Pins Etc.
Spin On Oil Filter Conversion Kit
Fuel Lift Pump
Fuel Filter
Foam and Vinyl for Seat
All New Fluids
Air Filter Element
Coolant Hoses
Fuel Lines
Steering Control Arm Ball Joint
Head Lights
Rear Lights
Down Light

Not to mention all the welding and fabrication Nate has had to do to get the original parts back to serviceable condition.  He eventually wants to design a canopy/brush guard over the top of the tractor to protect us from the sun and branches and I am sure some new tires are in our future as well. 

 Soooo....yes, it has been a lot of work but we did only pay $800 for the machine and it will be a "better than new" machine when we are done.  They sell for well over $3k in average operating condition so it leaves a lot of room for parts.  We've done a lot of research on these particular Fordsons and they seem to be very well respected around the world.  Quite the little powerhouse for the size.  

So like I said, Nate is doing an amazing job on getting this tractor up and running.  I am having fun helping where I can.  I mean you should see the amazing paint job.  Perfection I tell ya! Oh and I am pretty good at holding stuff in place while Nate adjusts this and that.  I can tell you it is hard work, but hopefully it will pay off with lots of little square hay bales!
Speaking of hay bales, we also have purchased a Hesston 1071 Mower Conditioner for $1500 and a New Holland 276 Hayliner Small Square Baler for $2400.  These are very good prices on older but great machines.  Fortunately the mower and baler are field ready so just add grease and go.  Now we are on the lookout for a good herbicide "Wicking/Wiping" apparatus to start dealing with our Johnson Grass situation.  Considering the simplicity and fairly inexpensive parts required Nate would like to try and make his own. 

So this is where I have to make a confession. About halfway into writing the blog, I called Nate over to explain all the parts he has fixed, my mom called, and Nate took over a writing a good chunk of the blog.  I am glad he did because I could never have remembered all those details.  That being said I think I should translate some of what he said for those of us who are less mechanically inclined.  So let me summarize...

We pulled the blue tractor apart, sanded, and painted it. Then Nate began putting it back together.  It started without needing to replace an expensive part.  YAY!  We like when the expensive parts work.  Except that one of the pedal thingies wasn't working right. So he had to pull the tractor apart. (See the picture above) As he thought one of the inside gut parts wasn't working properly...so we had to replace it.  Now he is replacing all the electrical lines, so she will be as good as new.  Well that is how I understand it all. Although, Nate has been doing a great job explaining the parts to me and I am learning more technical stuff as I go.  So if you don't understand the technical stuff just yet, I hope my summary helped a bit.

Off to bed for now.  Hopefully the weather will allow me to update again soon.  There is still so much to share.  I am updating the website. If you visit, remember it is in progress.  Anyone who has played around with designing websites knows it ALWAYS takes longer than you think.   Hopefully, I can link this blog to the updated website in the near future.  Of course, I will probably have to start mowing again now that we got some rain.  So I won't promise any time frame.  

Oh and I should probably post more pictures of those cute baby goats too.  Trust me, I could write an entire blog about what we have learned about raising goats in just a few days of owning them. I can tell you that they are worth every penny! I guess that post will be coming soon....stay tuned.

Thanks for visiting SweetWater.

Nathan, Lily & our critter crew

Old Promotional Video for the Super Dexta
More Super Dexta Footage

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