Tuesday, January 31, 2012

future farm critters - part 3: sheepies

There's a lot to farm animals that kinda scares the crap outta me, like de-worming medications and susceptibility to parasites and poor mothering skills and finicky eating habits and hoof rot. I really don't want to get farm animals that I am ill-equipped to care for due to misinformation on my part, stupidity, fear, or just plain bad luck. One of my favorite blogs to read is Farmgirl Fare - I love Farmgirl Susan's blunt honesty about farm life coupled with charming photographs that were just enough to whet my appetite for a farm of our own - but the trials and tribulations that she has talked about in detail sometimes make me want to just become a vegetarian again and forget all about raising our own meat.

Fortunately, I'm lucky to have a partner in crime that shares my lust for all things related to self-sufficiency and is not a sissy like me when it comes to the not-so-fun stuff. When I first started backyard homesteading (if you can really call it that), I was determined to cut the head off my first home-grown chicken to prove to myself that I really could pursue such an existence on a grander scale. But I much prefer to have Jay do it because his aim is better than mine, and besides, I still do the plucking and gutting and carcass dressing and cooking and what not.

So I figure we should try to tip the odds of homesteading success in our favor by focusing on breeds that are relatively fool-proof and don't require a lot of input on our part. I previously reviewed the merits and applicability to our future homestead of Scottish Highland cattle and Ossabaw Island as well as Red Wattle hogs, and I've pretty much decided which breed of sheep would likely suit our situation best: St. Croix hair sheep.

I adore this scene and wish to replicate it in its entirety. Well, maybe not quite so many sheep. But definitely the LGD.
[ image courtesy Five Ponds Farm ]

They're not really anything special in the aesthetics department, just white, although the boys do get a pretty rad lion's mane type thing that can grow all the way to the ground. Hair sheep don't produce wool and are bred primarily for their meat whereas wool breeds sacrifice meat quality for wool quality. I could care less about wool. I might take up knitting again someday, but that's pretty low on the totem pole. And the idea of shearing a sheep with sharp shears and possibly severely injuring myself or the sheep because I'm too stubborn to hire someone to do it is not a pleasant thought. Besides, hair sheep look funny when shedding their coats without any need for intervention from myself, and I'm always down for some free entertainment.

St. Croix sheep originally hail from the Virgin Islands, and I'm all about bringing a lil tropical flair to our Appalachian mountain backdrop.

But the big kicker is that if well managed, St. Croix sheep generally don't require any de-worming medication, which apparently is expensive and a pain in the ass to administer, and I've said time and time again that I'm lazy and don't want to be wrangling a sheep just to shove some medicine down its throat that it shouldn't need in the first place.

We, like, forage and shit instead of demanding hay like picky other sheep breeds. We RULE.
[ image courtesy Lenox Ranch ]

But I've read that even the most parasite-resistant sheep breeds sometimes still need some de-worming, so I hope to take Farmgirl Susan's advice and try to stick to a hippie garlic/apple cider vinegar concoction that supposedly really works in addition to using diatomaceous earth (aka DE). The combination of extremely hardy sheep and natural remedies will hopefully prevent us from ever having to buy some de-worming medication that I cannot pronounce the name of. Take that worms!

Lenox Ranch in eastern Kentucky says that they raise their St. Croix sheep on pasture alone with no supplemental feed, even in winter. This is what sold me on these guys. I'm confident that we have enough pasture to support enough lambs to fill our freezer. According to St. Croix Hair Sheep Breeders, Inc., they also have a high lamb survival rate, are good mothers, don't have horns to get caught up in fencing, and provide delicious meat.

We're not trying to run a major farm operation here. Our goal is not to make money farming but to provide food for ourselves. If we have bumper garden crops and are successful in breeding our stock that, in turn, generates an income, all the better. Which is why I feel extra blessed that we can be choosy in our farm stock and pick the best breeds suited to our needs instead of focusing on profits.

Next farm critter: goats!

~ Mitsy

Monday, January 30, 2012

flora and other farm prettiness

I was planning to do this series documenting each day during our last trip to the holler, which was back in late November/early December, but it is now almost February, and doing that seems totally retarded to me now. But because I still have more pictures from our trip that I wish to share, I will post some pictures of the local flora instead because I find it all magical and beautiful and shit and am getting some serious spring fever sitting at my desk over here in my windowless office.

So here you go:

Ridgeline view from the barn.

Weathered barn wood + sprinkling of clouds = happy Mitsy.

Jay is not flora, but he sure looks good in it.

I still trip out on being able to see through deciduous trees.

Kinda Sally-Mann-ish composition. She's from Virginia, you know! Or is it West Virginia. I don't remember.

gah, want. to. organize. NOW



This image is out of focus. My bad.

Tomorrow: Clinch River beautifulness.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

thinking too hard while i sleep

For the past few weeks, I've dreamt of the holler every single night. I may not necessarily recall the exact dream details (although I do have a knack for recounting my dreams, which sometimes tests Jay's patience with my incessant ramblings), but I do know that holler dreams pay me a visit regularly.

On Tuesday night, my dream was multi-faceted. It was somewhat shrouded in anxiety, probably because we've been discussing a lot lately when we might actually make it out there for our final move, which of course gets me incredibly giddy, not to mention makes me break out into full-blown planner craziness. Yes, I started planning our vegetable garden, fruit orchard, and bramble patch on paper (er, I mean Excel because my handwriting sucks balls and do you really think someone as anal-retentive as I am could make do with handwritten notes? pshaw).

I've started developing our future pasture renovation timeline.

I'm discovering which herbs are best inter-planted amongst my future annual vegetables for maximum disease/parasite/bug/fungus/whatever resistance and that will attract beneficial insects and butterflies.

I'm researching what hardy, perennial ground covers would do well for my future garden pathways.

I'm interested in learning more about hugelkultur, quick hoops versus greenhouses, and mob grazing. I haven't delved into bee keeping or forest gardening yet.

I study the aerial views of our property daily and think about how to make the lay of our land work best for all these projects that I think up.

Y'all, Mitsy McPlanner is quite the obsessive compulsive gal to be around these days.

Anyway, back to my dream:

We're at the cabin (Jay is always closeby in my dreams but not necessarily within view), but it's situated more on an east/west axis instead of the current north/south orientation and is slightly bigger. It's a sunny day.

Jay is in the driveway trying to pick something up off the ground when this very large tractor/heavy equipment type vehicle comes barreling up and brakes just in time to barely avoid hitting him. He greets the mail lady hello and continues to try to pick up the strange object.

There's a real estate agent showing someone the cabin interior, and I tell her that it's not for sale anymore because we bought it, and she responds that she just wants to show her client the woodwork (which isn't anything to write home about).

I'm now out behind the cabin, and there's a huge field that dips way down and up the mountain again - a big bowl of pasture of sorts. It's very pretty - the tall green grass seems to be sparkling and is swaying in the breeze - but I don't remember it being there before (our land only goes up the mountain from the cabin in real life).

I'm back inside and some person has left the kitchen sink running, and it is now overflowing. Anyone that knows me well can attest to my innate fear of overflowing toilets, sinks, and swimming pools. This fear plays a role in my dreams frequently. I still can't believe there's no name for this phobia - believe me I've looked.

The overflowing kitchen sink is red and shaped kinda like a heart and is surrounded with pretty glass countertops, which I think to myself is neat but can't look at any longer because I'm fleeing in fear.

Now out in front of the cabin, people are setting up a flea market of sorts to peddle their treasures. There are about five people with plastic tables littered with various knick knacks. I don't seem to mind this infringement on our privacy.

I look up the hill and someone has built a much bigger cabin and is waving from the front porch. On our land. Looking down on us. This infringement infuriates me!

THE END. Aren't dreams fucking weird?!

Friday, January 13, 2012

buying land in a poor area

[ warning, I blab a lot in this post ]

When relocating, people usually decide what amenities they can't live without and narrow their search to find their ideal location. Common requests include highly rated schools, a low crime rate, diverse shopping options, reasonable utility expenses, efficient transportation and communications options, and a decent entertainment scene (whatever that may entail). Although they may balk, all these amenities come at a price, usually in the form of higher property and/or income taxes as well as more bureaucracy, and most people grudgingly accept such trade-offs as necessary. Such a bucket list usually means that economically depressed areas get crossed off the list right away because poor areas usually have more drug use, a lower high school graduation rate, ineffective or nonexistent social services, a stagnant business climate (leading to few jobs), and perhaps community eyesores/trashiness that are not acceptable in certain minds. People that are relatively well off can't envision themselves downgrading their standards and people less fortunate are usually looking to improve upon what they see as a lower standard of living if at all possible.

Our relocation needs differed vastly from the majority of folks:

1) Our number one requirement was to be in the  mountains and live in a scenic setting surrounded by nature and abundant natural resources. We had to have fertile soil, a plentiful water source, and lots of solar gain (aka, a predominantly south-facing parcel). We wanted a large chunk of acreage, with privacy being paramount, thus allowing us freedom to focus on whatever homesteading projects we dream up while encountering as little bureaucracy as possible.

2) Kids are not in our future, so good schools were irrelevant (although some may argue that good schools still benefit the child-free in the form of less crime, a better educated workforce, etc).

3) While I do like to shop, I don't mind driving an hour or two to get there (adventure!), and homesteading will inherently mean doing much less food shopping, and most other shopping can be done online (therefore, we did need to be able to have UPS find us).

4) We rarely patronize traditional entertainment venues, such as bars, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and so forth, although we do like to find honest restaurants and I love me a classic festival with vendors and carnival food (fortunately, southern Appalachia has many!). I'll take a scenic mountain backdrop, clear flowing river, or flowering meadow any day over cultivated entertainment.

5) We were prepared to trade off common conveniences, such as indoor laundry, automatic dishwashing, and supermarket prepared foods, for independence in the form of hand-washed and line-dried clothes, good conversation while washing and drying dishes, and growing, hunting, and preserving food that comes from our own land. One convenience that was still essential to us, however, was decent communications, and although we don't have a land line for DSL or cable internet at the holler, we plan to use our cell phones as hot spots for our internet connection (we haven't had much luck finding a device that boosts our signal enough, but we haven't given up hope yet).

6) Utilities had to be inexpensive, and we wanted to be able to explore alternative energy and waste options, such as composting toilets, solar capture, and rainwater catchment.

7) While no one wants to live in a high crime area, petty crime is a lot different than violent crime, and we understood that petty crimes, such as thievery and drug use, generally accompany poor areas as a result of desperation. We were really not concerned with being able to defend our homestead if the need ever arose. And being a good neighbor goes a long way in rural areas since people are more likely to keep an eye out for you when you treat them with respect.

8) Plentiful and decent paying jobs are usually the biggest concern for most folks. In our case, we are intentionally slowing down, simplifying, and embracing frugality in exchange for independence from the financially-fueled world. Expenses are still very real, but our goal is to diversify our income stream using our current skills, decrease our spending substantially (not having kids makes that a lot easier), and attempt to live off our land as much as possible. Jay and I feel pretty confident that we will be able to keep food on the table, a roof over our melons, and maybe have a little fun money to spare. Only time will tell how successful we are, but this is not something new, and many people have successfully transitioned from full-time employment and high-expense households to voluntary simplicity.

Inserting a picture here to keep your attention in case you're bored outta your mind with my ramblings.

Hancock County is the poorest county in Tennessee and the 27th poorest county by median income in the United States (as of 2010). In order to be able to try out each income-producing pursuit that we've tossed around and find the one(s) that work best, we've decided to start saving now and hope to have enough of a nest egg to cover our mortgage, utilities, and food requirements for two years once we move to the holler. We have no other debt than our mortgage, and not having to worry about basic living needs should allow us to focus our energy on building our income survival base, and when the time comes to start living off our income instead of savings, we'll be able to transition relatively easy.

There's always the possibility that we will fail miserably at all our money making pursuits and end up working at the local fast food joint, but even if that happens, we should still be able to survive.

I can't find the link, but I read somewhere about the benefits of buying in an economically depressed rural area, a few of which include: low property tax rates (due to few services), a strong sense of community (everyone has gotta band together to survive), inexpensive property, a small population density ratio, and a general freedom to do whatever you want (as long as you're not negatively affecting anyone else). I find this last benefit the most interesting and applicable to homesteading life.

Few restrictions means that you are able to make your land work for you instead of the other way around. More specifically:
  • Growing food in the form of vegetables and meat instead of buying someone else's (your garden doesn't have to be pretty to impress the neighbors - but it probably will be anyway!)
  • Harvesting precious water, either by spring/creek/river, ponds, or rainwater catchment, instead of paying a utility company.
  • Harnessing solar power for the use of modern electric conveniences and eventually perhaps disconnecting from the grid.
  • Collecting downed trees and growing new ones for firewood.
  • Using animals and their natural instincts/skills for homesteading chores (goats for clearing, pigs for tilling soil, dogs for protection, cats for rodent control, and so on).
  • Using wildlife to sustainably fill your freezer and keep the local ecosystem in check (aka, deer population control).
  • Caring for your land in the manner that works best for your family and the critters that help make survival possible.
  • Caring for your neighbors and the community at large by sharing your excess goods when possible and helping those in greater need than you.
Let's all say a collective "Awwww!"

Still with me? Awesome possum.

Now granted, you could probably do a lot of these things in a better economic suburban or even urban setting, but being out the sticks has one huge advantage: people leave you alone (for the most part). Unless you're being an ass about something, no one cares what you do. They don't mind your ugly new DIY solar contraption (since they can't see it), your barking dogs (you're far enough away from them after all), the [insert farm animal here] that occasionally escapes their confines (since you'll probably share the bounty with them at slaughter time), a few gunshots here and there (venison anyone?), the occasional burn pile that may have questionable burnable items, or the pick up truck that finally bit the dust and has now become yard art. They might even get a chuckle out of your attempted homesteading projects and aspirations and decide to help you out when you can't figure out how to milk your new goats. But the bottom line is that I see the above attributes as essentially helping one to become financially and socially independent (to a certain degree), and that is a very important goal to Jay and myself.

We bought a property that spans an entire box canyon all the way up the mountain for a few reasons, two of which I've already mentioned: privacy and defensibility. I realize the latter sounds a bit paranoid, but I don't want to have to get another landowner's permission in order to be able to fend off zombies in the coming apocalypse. Kidding! sorta

Privacy is paramount as well. I want to be able to take a pee right there when I'm in the middle of a gardening chore, skinny dip in our to-be-dug-in-the-future pond, hoard supplies for future projects without worrying about neighborhood aesthetics (in a tidy and organized manner of course), and have a place to bury the bodies. Kidding again! yes, I really am this time

All this is a really long-winded way of saying that we know we're weirdos and have strange aspirations that might not jive with societal expectations, but there is a rhyme and reason to our thinking, and I hope that maybe others out there can be inspired to think a little differently when it comes to determining what is important in life. This is all new to us, and I may read this post five years from now and chuckle at our naïveté, but hey, life is an adventure, and it would be pretty boring if everyone wanted to live in picture perfect neighborhoods, drive new cars, and spend eight hours working for someone else every day (which both of us do now, by the way).

Mitsy thanks you for reading through to the end by rewarding you with an image of some yard art.
Junkyards can be hauntingly beautiful, you know!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

day 2 at the holler

It certainly was frosty on our second day back at the holler.

Crunchy grass.

The dinner bell. Yea, we have a freaking dinner bell!

But then the sun creeped over the ridge,
and everything was right with the universe.

We ventured out via automobile on back roads. Top of our ridge as seen from Virginia.

Then we got some lunch at Pal's Sudden Service in Kingsport and ate delicious chili dogs and burgers and peach tea.

Found the nearest package store and stocked up on whiskey.

Our new memory foam mattress and petite sofa had arrived when we returned
(sorry we were late Mr. Delivery Man From Knoxville, whoops).

Our wood stove works well. Like let's-get-to-100-degrees-in-2-hours well.
We actually had to open all the windows and doors in
20-degree weather to cool the cabin down a bit.

I think it was that night that we agreed our two-year time frame for moving out to the holler was just way too long. 2012 sounds much better.

more manana, my peeps...

~ Mitsy

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

future farm critters - part 2: piggies

Two breeds of porkers that we like the sound of are Ossabaw Island and Red Wattle/Waddle hogs. First we'll talk about the Ossies (yes, I coined that phrase just now).

Spotted, hairy piggies make me squeal.
[ image courtesy Nature's Harmony Farm ]

Apparently, a bunch of Spaniards left these guys to fend for themselves on an isolated piece of dirt in Georgia called Ossabaw Island. Because they were feral, the breed stayed pretty small (about 200 pounds market weight), forages well, and will drink just about anything. They'll root up all sorts of shit, so best to put them someplace where you want to take advantage of that, like out in the woods or in a new garden area or whatever. My garden is pictured below with me in the background hoe-ing away.

[ image courtesy Country Living ]

I could only hope for a fraction of the beautifulness of this garden.

Anyway, Ossies are supposed to be pretty independent. (We like independent. I'm lazy.) They're supposed to be excellent mamas and have an extremely high healthy birth rate. (Because I don't want to have to help a pig give birth, I ASSURE YOU.)

And tasty, too. Because although I have no experience with slaughtering swine, this will be the end result, and I love me some bacon and chops. And ribs. And sausage.

In direct contrast, Red Wattle hogs are BIG. Like 1,200 pound market weight big. And they get big fast because they're lazy. Their exact origin is unknown, but they might originally be from Australia. Ossies (my newfound word) + Aussies = clearly a sign that we should raise both. They're good mamas, too, and have crazy appendages that I find weirdly charming hanging off their cheeks, hence, the wattle descrip.

Wattle: the appendix equivalent of pig facial features.
[ image courtesy porkfoodservice.org ]

I don't care if they're edible, though, I'm not eating the wattles.

The Ark of Taste describes the Red Wattle hog as "...known for their hardiness, foraging activity, and rapid growth rate. The sows are excellent mothers, who labor litters of 9-10 piglets, and provide good quantities of milk for their large litters.  They adapt well to a wide range of climates, making them a good choice for consideration in outdoor or pasture-based swine production. Red Wattle pork is exceptionally lean and juicy with a rich beef-like taste and texture."

That last line is what has me sold. Next in the future farm critters series (but not necessarily the next post because, holy smokes I have some holler pictures to show off): St. Croix sheep!

over and out, hoeboats

~ Mitsy

Thursday, January 5, 2012

future farm critters - part 1: cattle

So, I've been super bogging on posting because I have a crapload of pictures I want to show y'all from our Nov/Dec trip to the holler, but I've also been slacking on processing said images, and it's become a vicious cycle of me hating on myself for not finishing them yet and feeling guilty for not having posted anything since... ahem... December 11th.

So today, I brilliantly remembered (dingdingdingding!) that I could quite possibly talk about some other subject instead of worrying about those damn pictures so much. Until I finish them at least. There's really not that many (a hundo or so), but being the OCD weirdo that I am, I must ensure that they meet my processing standards. Crackheading out over here.

I consulted my trusty "blogging ideas" list on listhings.com (hello digital post-it hell) and randomly picked today's subject matter:

Animals we'd like to keep.

What an original title.

Browsing through my Pinterest homesteading board (image bookmarking HEAVEN, people), there are a few varieties of heritage livestock breeds that we're particularly interested in. See, we're new to this whole homesteading thing (and only currently in the backyard homesteading stage instead of the full-fledged homesteading we-are-hillbilly-farmers stage), and although I feel mildly successful thus far with our chicken shenanigans (which, by the wayside, has become annoyingly trendy and I feel a bit robbed of my purported weirdness among family, friends, and strangers alike, although they were still shocked and a bit disturbed when I brought a home-grown hen to the Christmas brunch table, freshly butchered, dressed, and cooked that morning, which made me feel better - and yea, every last piece of that thing was scarfed down), I would still like to start out with easy breeds in each type of farm animal. wtf, run-on sentence

Heritage breeds are supposedly better adapted to the homesteading lifestyle: better resistance to parasites/worms/etc, able to mostly fend for themselves, slower growing, friendlier, and all around more independent than breeds cultivated for specific traits. I love caring for and tending to animals, but the more self-sufficient they are, even if that means trade-offs in the form of less end product (meat, milk, whatever), the better in my mind.

So without further ado, here's a few of our faves:

Holy cuteness, Batman, amiright?!
[image courtesy Dreugans Molach Farm]

Now, I realize that baby animals probably aren't the best method with which to decide breeds, but I'm pretty sold on these Scottish Highland cattle. We really kind of want to fulfill that farm ideal of having a cow, but our pasture areas are somewhat limited (more on our usable acreage in a future post, aka, further procrastinating on trip pictures), and these bad boys are A) on the smallish side B) forage well and aren't picky about having picture-perfect fescue (or whatever the hell it is that cattle like to eat), C) give delicious meat and so-so milk (plan to get milk from goats anyway [edit: not anymore!]) and D) are fuzzy and rad looking!

In case you forgot how fucking bad-ass these guys are.
[image courtesy Dreugans Molach Farm]

We would probably start out with just a female because I've heard female stock are generally easier to keep than males (figures) and then get some bull's swimmers put in her (aka, artificial insemination) and see what we end up with for a baby cow. Then figure out if we keep the offspring for meat or further procreation or sell it for a buck or whatever. Lots of logistics involved, but I figure we'll have plenty of time to sort out those details when the time comes. I know that most farm animals prefer to have a buddy, but cows don't necessarily need a partner of the same species, especially if they have other farm buddies like goats and sheep and chickens running around. Getting two sounds a bit daunting until we figure out what the hell we're doing.

Heritage breeds can be a bit more difficult to find than standard stock breeds, but I figure we'll welcome the opportunity to explore and take road trips to find our future farm critters.

And in case you forgot again:

I might have a hard time eating them.
[image courtesy Windy Acres Farm Shop]

Next: piggies!