October 2016


Last year, we increased our number of layer hens to roughly 100, and plan to increase further over the next few years.  We needed a new coop!  Once again, S returned to the drawing board to come up with a design, while I jotted down my thoughts of things I had and had not liked about the previous, smaller designs we had built over the last few years.

We finally had a plan and set it in motion.  We decided to build a hoop-house style coop, with open ends.  Since we have guardian dogs, we don’t need to close our coop up at night.  Since S had oak available from his lumber mill, that’s what the coop foundation and roosts were built with.  Yes, oak is very heavy, but we had our team to move it, so heavy wasn’t a big deal.  Oak is also sturdy, so we didn’t have to worry about the weight of all the chickens piling onto roosts at night.  We used cattle panel to form the hoop shape.  We had some wood scraps and thin plywood pieces we used to build the nest boxes, which were designed to be removable.  We ordered the cover custom made from a company specializing in tarp-type covers for farm buildings.  It was far more secure and sturdier than standard tarp material.

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First, we built a solid, stable foundation on skids, and bolted the cattle panels between wood layers.

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Next, we added end pieces and upright supports to maintain the shape of the panels.

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Next, we added roosts and the removable nest box sections (4 total, though only 1 is pictured here)

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Finally, we painted it all to protect it, and added the custom made cover.

The next step was to build the feed and water station.  We decided to make this a separate structure, which could be attached and towed along behind the hoop house.

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The feeder was built out of scrap lumber and plywood.

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Next, we installed a linoleum-style cover inside to help the feed slide down the sides into the side openings where the hens could eat. We also built the platform for the waterer, which is a 30-gallon drum with a gravity-style water bowl. We painted it all up and added a roof.

Finally, we put it all together, hauled it out to the pasture, and when the weather warmed enough, we moved the hens from their winter quarters to the new Hen Hut.  They totally approved!

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Happy hens!

We now have roost capacity to easily house around 170 hens, and more if they pack in a bit snugly.  When filled, the feeder holds the equivalent of about 2- 50 pound sacks of feed and lasts 100 pastured hens about 4-6 days (depending on bugs and other available feedstuffs).

Stay tuned, and I’ll tell you how we winterize the Hen Hut soon!

Since we couldn’t run our farm as naturally and forage-based as we do without some form of protection, I’ll update you on our guardian dog program.

As you may recall, back in 2014, we bred our registered Colorado Mountain Dog LGD, Iris, to a full Pyrenees stud, who was a proven LGD, had the temperament we wanted, and whose age (9 years) still found him in excellent health.  They had a beautiful litter of pups.  After waiting a bit to see how the pups turned out, we were extremely pleased (as were the buyers), so we wanted to repeat that breeding.  First, however, we had Iris’ hips x-rayed, and consulted with our vet at length about her health and candidacy for breeding.  In 2015, another mating resulted in a second litter of adorable little snowball pups, which sold equally as fast.  At that point, we realized there was a tremendous need for responsibly bred, affordable, well-started, and healthy livestock guardian dogs.

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Purchasing an LGD can really be like playing Russian Roulette in some ways, as the genetics are all over the place with almost all breeds today.  As with most animals, especially in America, irresponsible breeders have messed up genetics so much, and results can be very hit-or-miss based on the mixed up genetics of modern LGDs.

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Knowing we wanted to be part of the solution, rather than the problem, we took some steps to ensure we fit the “responsible” category.  First, we developed an official breeding plan of sorts, with health standards we would require in our breeding dogs, health exams, written guidelines, policies, return exceptions, and so forth for buyers.  We came up with a plan for really ensuring the pups all had a great start in their lives as LGDs, and evaluated our own needs, and what market we wanted to focus on serving with our dogs.  This helped us plan the type of stud dog we wanted to find.

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Since the original male was getting older, we found our own stud dog (Tundra), who came from a line of proven CMD dogs and excellent health.  We also had retained a second female from Iris’ first litter (Charity).  When the two turned a year old, we had both of them evaluated and x-rayed by our vet team to ensure they were as close to “perfect” as we could get.  Tundra was, Charity was considered closer to “good” rather than “excellent” on the hip rating.  As a result, we had Charity spayed, then used Tundra with Iris for her third litter, born in 2016.  Unfortunately, as Tundra matured, he did not have quite the temperament we were looking for. We were aiming for quieter and calmer, and he…..well…..wasn’t.  He was a talker, and crazy immature and hyperactive.  I also noticed a huge difference in his pups by the time they were only 3 weeks old.  They too were extra talkative, more active, and more domineering towards each other than either of our previous litters.  Not bad pups, by any means.  He was in fact, a great dog and a great LGD, just not what we needed or wanted to breed for.

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The tough decision was made to rehome him to a farm better suited to his disposition and start our search for the perfect stud again.  As it turned out, we found a great home, but they really needed two dogs.  So, we agreed to sell the both Charity and Tundra.  We were sad to see them go, but glad we could help a new farm get off the ground.  So, we were back to square one–but not for long.  I located a breeder down south with a litter of full Pyrenees pups.  They had the sire and dam on property, as well as some adult siblings, all of whom I could evaluate for health and temperament.  I wound up purchasing 4 of their male pups, hoping I could keep the “best” (for our needs) and give the others a good start to help other farms.

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Over the next 4 months, that’s exactly what I did.  I put Iris partly in charge of helping to train the pups, and we watched closely as they grew over the next few months.  When one showed consistent barking issues, he lost some points.  When another showed more dominance issues, he lost a few points.  When one ignored poultry, as the others showed too much interest in a chicken, that one gained some points.  And so on and so forth, until we narrowed the selection to two.  Then, it was a matter of deciding which of those two would be the best compliment for Iris’ strengths and weaknesses.  Finally, by late September, I had selected my pup.

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Our new pup, Cedar, is an absolute gem!  He is the most laid-back, easy going, happy dog, and only barks if there is a true threat.  Otherwise, he is content to just sit and watch the goings on around the farm.  He loves people, adores his goats, and is gentle with pretty much everything we’ve ever introduced him to.  He hasn’t shown a tendency to wander off, or a desire to challenge anyone at feeding time.  These are all characteristics I love, and hope to pass on to any pups.  On top of that, he is a beautiful, very regal looking dog.  He doesn’t have the big, boxy, drooly look of many modern Great Pyrenees, and I’m hoping he stays that way.  Of course, nothing is certain yet.  He still has to pass the x-rays and breeding evaluation by the vet in a few months, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

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In the midst of all that, we also took in 3 LGDs that were in urgent re-home situations for different reasons.  We were able to help all 3 find new homes that were better suited to their individual needs and instincts.  It always feels great helping other farms match to such great dogs!

Currently, it seems a bit quiet around here with just Iris and Cedar, now that all the other pups and rescue dogs have their permanent homes.  As busy as we’ve been though, it’s also nice to have a bit of a break for a few months from raising and training pups.  Nonetheless, assuming his evaluation goes well, we are looking forward to another litter of pups around here–hopefully by summer of 2017.

Winter of 2014/2015 proved to be a challenging one for us.  It was a rough winter to begin with–bitter cold, with little snow.  We had to cancel several of our scheduled carriage ride events due to the bitter, frostbite-inducing chill, which was a little hit from a financial standpoint.  The ground was often iced over, preventing conductivity of our electric fences and risking bad slip/falls for the horses on our pasture slopes.  As a result, we spent much of our time hibernating from the chill, trying to homeschool and get some indoor projects completed.

One day, we finally got a bit of snow, and it was warm enough (finally in the double digits!), so the kids decided to go sled.  Somehow, while inspecting the kids’ sledding attire–coat, check! gloves, check!  hat, check!–I missed the fact that R was wearing tennis shoes with no socks, rather than socks and snow boots.  I decided to take the opportunity to work the horses.

I had just gotten finished plowing snow and unharnessing the horses, when I heard a blood-curdling scream from R.  About that time, I heard N say, “Her foot looks like Nick’s knee!” (referring to Nick’s injury, posted here).  S and I came running at the same time, and by the time we arrived to the sledding area, R was already up and walking, well, limping, toward the house.  A quick inspection proved that this was definitely worthy an E.R. visit.

Many hours later, we returned home, not much worse off than before.  It was determined that, in some freak way, while sledding, R had collided with a post, which wouldn’t have been all bad except that her body had slid forward, and the wooden corner of the sled had somehow wedged its way up inside her tennis shoe.  The edge, blunt as it was, somehow managed to literally filet the top of her foot off by several inches.  Thankfully, all parts were still there, and there was no ligament or tendon damage.  The doc cleaned it up, sutured the skin back together, and she was ordered to stay of her feet for a couple of days.  By the time the sutures came out the following week, the scar was the only sign of the trauma of that day.

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Remember I said it was an icy winter?  Well, one day a month or so prior, we had an issue with the truck and trailer sliding down an icy hill and jackknifing.  The horses were used to pull it out of it’s quandary, which was a pretty impressive feat, by the way!  It was a Chevy 2500 pickup, in a very tight space, on ice, and the horses with their studded traction shoes, pulled that thing right out!

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The incident, however, resulted in our forecart (the red work cart we hitch to the horses) having to be shoved over the nearby hill to get the truck free.  We didn’t get much of a break, when, a few weeks later, the weather finally improved enough to work the horses again.   First, I needed to get my forecart out of it’s quandary.  What happened next is a really long story, containing a few not-so-great decisions on our part, and involved chaining the rear of the forecart (the exposed area) to the horses and having the horses pull it up the hill.  Theoretically, the idea should have worked, but the worst decision was turning the brake off, which in turn allowed the wheels to turn freely.  This creates an unstable mass (in S’s engineering terminology!).  When you combine an unstable mass with a certain horse we had at the time who had a lot of “GO!” and very little “WHOA!”……..well, we set ourselves up for trouble!  I, as the driver, was safely positioned uphill.  S, on the other hand, was safely out of the way until the horse sped up, the forecart became unstable and flipped quickly through the air, and S found himself trapped in a corner.  He attempted to go the only open direction he had—straight up!  This act (and a whole lot of God’s protection!) probably saved his life, but nonetheless, the roughly 500-lb forecart caught him mid-jump, scooped him up, flipped over with him and on him several times, and then dragged him up a hill.  Mind you this all took mere seconds before I got the team stopped, but when it was over, we were all shaken.  I had seen it all happen out of the corner of my eye, and feared my husband was dead.  I had no choice but to stop the horses, who were slightly spooked at this point, before they bolted and created havoc on who-knows-what-and-whom.  Once they stopped, I looked over toward S, and he gave our long-time sign of a raised hand to signal he was still alive and at least partly functioning.  This gave me the time I needed to get the horses untangled and secured, while yelling instructions to the children on how to help their father.  As soon as I could, I ran to S and my medical training kicked into high gear.  I checked him over, looking for major breaks and areas of pain.  He seemed beat up, but mostly OK, except for a very-rapidly-swelling foot and some blood coming out of his ear (not really a good thing).  We assumed he might have head trauma and the foot was severely damaged, based on the fact that something had sliced through both his boot AND his sock, though interestingly the foot itself wasn’t cut.  I ran back over, got the horses put away, called my mother-in-law to come babysit, and loaded S for the E.R.  We live in one of those remote areas where sometimes it’s a better option to drive to the E.R. than to wait for the ambulance!  Poor S was wincing in pain at every bump, railroad track, and turn we made.  He hung in there, and we finally arrived.  I ran in to tell the E.R. staff about his situation, and surprisingly, it was as if they were expecting him!  A whole trauma team ran outside with a gurney, got him onto the gurney, rushed him into the trauma room, and within an hour, he had x-rays, a CT scan, and was examined by the attending doc, a plastic surgeon, an orthopedist, and I forget who else.  By God’s amazing blessing, and an awesome E.R. staff, just 4 hours later, S hobbled out of the E.R., and headed home.  Turns out his ear lobe had been sliced, but his brain was fine.  His foot had some soft-tissue damage, but not a single break.  His torso was covered in scrapes and bruises from the gravel driveway, but nothing there was broken.  In fact, the only major damage was 3 fractures to his facial bones.  He was put on crutches and told to wear a boot for a few weeks to give his foot time to heal, as the crush was pretty significant.  In fact, he still suffers numbness from nerve damage almost 18 months later.

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I learned later how God had set everything into motion to take care of S, though.  As it turned out, just before our arrival, the E.R. had been notified of a severe car accident involving some major trauma.  There was some confusion, and they didn’t know details, but all the doctors and trauma team were ready to go, and the trauma room had been prepped.  When we arrived, they thought he was the car accident victim at first, hence the speedy intake.  Don’t worry, though, we didn’t endanger anyone else, as we found out later that in all the confusion, the other victim had been taken to a different hospital and our hospital had been mistakenly notified.   It all worked out for the best, just as our Lord promises!

If you recall a couple years ago, I did a post (here) about Hunter, the dog we were training to be a Diabetes Alert Dog for JR.  I never told you the result of that.

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Hunter was truly a fun dog!  He ran around the farm all day, helping JR with chores, and generally finding entertainment in anything a good, farm-breed working dog would.  He also LOVED having a job to do.  He bonded very closely to JR, which was great, and by the time he was just around 7 months old, he began showing signs of alerting and scent recognition.  He was well on his way to being an alert dog.

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Sadly, though, as with many service-dogs-in-training, there is so much more to creating an all-around service dog than just achieving a specific task.  In Hunter’s case, he was so full of energy, he was usually like a spring just waiting to explode at any second.  On the farm, this wasn’t a problem.  In public, however, it could’ve turned into a problem.  No one in the general public had a clue, as by all accounts, he seemed to be a very well-trained pup, on his way to being a service dog.  He would calmly walk alongside JR, or lay up under a table in a restaurant, or whatever we asked of him.  The waiting however, was just more than he could comfortably bear.  As a habit, I always have a foot or leg touching a pup I am training in public, so I always know what they are up to.  In Hunter’s case, I could feel him just trembling with pent-up energy, and ready to leap out at the first temptation to play.  It broke my heart.

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Some issues can be outgrown.  It is possible that Hunter would have outgrown this one.  However, there comes a time when selfless and practical decisions must be made.  First, and most importantly, I want to know that a dog is truly happy and enjoying his life–while at work or play.  In Hunter’s case, he was a naturally happy dog, but I think having to remain calm in public was not something he enjoyed at all.  Secondly, even though he could possibly have outgrown the energy, from a practical standpoint, I couldn’t risk it taking several years to have him able to qualify as a service dog.  I learned in my past training that a good alert dog should be ready and able to pass a full exam such as the Canine Good Citizen Award by the time they are about 18 months old–preferably earlier.  Hunter wasn’t even close.  So, instead, we found Hunter a farm home with other mini-Aussies, where he was able to herd livestock and play and generally exert energy to his heart’s content.  Last I heard, he was adapting beautifully, and the photos they sent showed a very happy dog indeed!

Giving up Hunter was a little harder for JR, as he was very attached.  In fact, he slept with Hunter’s dog tag and a photo for several months after he left, and there were a few nights where he cried himself to sleep.  That being said, he seemed to fully understand that it was truly the best decision for Hunter.  JR knew he wanted an alert dog, not a pet, and we couldn’t have both at that point in time.  Furthermore, we all agreed that Hunter’s presence was certainly not in vain.  He had helped JR overcome some major fears he had developed with his new diagnosis.  Since learning he was diabetic, he was always scared to leave S or I, fearing he would have a low blood sugar and not know what to do.  For many weeks, he even slept on our couch, rather than going upstairs to his bedroom.  Hunter gave him the confidence he so desperately needed to go back to living life as normal.  For that, we will always be thankful to Hunter!

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I think the best place to start is to catch you up to speed on the family and farm, and go from there…..

S and I survived the retirement, moving, farm setup, and so forth, and are still happily married!  By God’s grace, we also managed to do it with 5 children still homeschooling…though I won’t deny there have been an unmentioned number of days where S had to take over school lest I enroll them in our local school system.  The kids are getting bigger, and we are just getting older.  Our bodies fight against us every day, and we often wish we could have started this farm 20 years ago, when we still had energy and youth on our side.

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We’ve learned that there are only so many hours in a day, and things must be prioritized to get any of it accomplished.  As a result, the house and landscaping have been all but neglected, while we have been busy raising the children, and building the farm and the business.

The farm…..oh, where do I start?!  Our farm animals now consist of Hereford feeder cattle, horses, breeder and feeder Red Wattle hogs, chickens…..LOTS of chickens, turkeys, rabbits, ducks (well, currently, just A duck), American and French Alpine dairy goats, a few barn cats, and our livestock guardian dogs to protect them all.  We also have JR’s cockatiel and a new little house mutt we adopted from the shelter last year, after we lost our Will and Callie within months of each other.

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The farm projects and additions include a new pond, the makings of our new walipini (to be explained later), a trail down into the back property, a “Paddock Paradise” track for the horses (and another in the making–more on that later), a good sized garden, mushroom patch, orchard, and berry selection for our food and our new CSA program, new structures and shelters….both permanent and portable, a renovated barn, new winter pens and paddocks, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things.  It’s all stilll powered by Nick and Bud, our work horses.

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Serving customers keeps us busy these days as well.  We offer almost all the above animals for meat, some of which we harvest here on the farm.  We offered a CSA produce program this year, which was a tremendous success.  We offer a variety of classes and clinics, as well as tours here on the farm, for those looking to get ideas or learn about sustainable permaculture-style farming.  Then, in our “free” time, we offer wagon and carriage rides, and participate in educational events with our team of draft horses.

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So there you go….life and farm in a nutshell.

Photo of cute pup with his goat, just because.

Photo of cute pup with his goat, just because.

I checked in my blog the other day, and realized it has been 20 months since I last blogged!  I can’t believe how time has flown once again.  Here lately, I have been really missing it.  With winter approaching, I am hoping perhaps I can find time to consistently sit down and post.  In a million years, no one ever would have been able to convince me how busy this new life would be.  I often joke that our “retirement” is far busier than our life ever was when hubby had a career in the military!

My goal will be to go back over the last few years, using my Facebook page as a reminder, and try to catch you up.  Things have come so far, and changed so much!  I can’t wait to share it with you….as usual, there’s the fun, gross, the happy, the scary, the life lessons, all of it.  Well, mostly all of it.

So, hello again!  If anyone is still out there waiting for updates, a special “Thanks” to you!