Farm Life

Have you ever stepped outside, especially if you live near woodlands, and considered the variety of edible foods that may exist there?  This is something we have tried to become more in-tune to since moving to Red Gate Farm.  This year, we really became curious about the bounty of mushrooms we found everywhere we looked, it seemed.  S is always fair game to experiment and sample things.  Mushrooms, of course, can be dangerous if you go about it wrong, so we knew we had to be careful.


Did you know most edible mushrooms were determined to be so over the years by men brave enough to sample, wait a few days, and see how their bodies reacted?  Now, of course, we have more elaborate tests available to determine toxins and such, but there is still a great deal of information that has just been taught to the next generation for many years.  As it turns out, there really isn’t even one “best” reference book you can purchase to help you, as there are just too many mushrooms, and more importantly, too many “look-alike” mushrooms.  The more experienced mushroom hunters will tell you to get several books so you can cross-reference and compare.  So, that’s what we did.  S, being the adventurous sort, was willing to taste the possible good ones, to help us learn, since many of the toxic ones have a spicy or bitter flavor (though certainly not all!)


Some mushrooms are widespread, while others are very regional.  And they can grow almost anywhere!  Lawns, forest floors, dead tree stumps, live trees, mud bogs, leaf litter, animal manure, you name it.  Thankfully, those who have gone before us have taken many excellent notes and recorded their findings in the many books and resource science available.


Giant Morels! An expensive delicacy in most of the U.S., and valued at roughly $40/lb, yet they grow right in our backyard!

We have had a great time this year learning about our mushrooms.  We have oysters, hen of the woods, chicken of the woods, pheasant backs (which taste like watermelon!), truffles, and the much-sought-after and valuable morel mushroom, among others.


Pheasant Backs….although edible, these were a bit old and tough. We will try to find them younger next year.  These are easily identified by, interestingly, their watermelon flavor!


Hen of the Woods Mushroom. We found this one a bit late, so it was tough, but we did enjoy a few meals from it!


A large winter oyster mushroom. This one is now cleaned, dehydrated, and waiting for the next stew I cook up!

We are still in the early phase of learning about our mushrooms, but it is eye-opening, indeed, just how much food is available in nature.  Mushrooms are barely the tip of the iceberg of the bounty we can find if we but look around.

If you read my last post, you can imagine that we had quite a feat on our hands, as we needed to get that mama sow from her new location she had escaped to, deep in the woods, to our house.  There was roughly 1/4 mile, as the crow flies, between the two areas, but the land in between had no trails, lots of brush and briars, several hills and steep ravines, and a couple of creeks running through.  An impossible feat at best.  For the record, if a hog doesn’t want to move, it doesn’t.  Period.  If there is a baby involved, as was the case here, you increase the danger a bit, as you don’t want to risk upsetting mom or baby!  We were in a quandary, and our pigs were on someone else’s land!


Well, thanks to hog farmer and blogger Walter Jeffries, over at Sugar Mountain Farm, I had an idea!  About 200 feet in a different direction, the woods dumped out onto a cleared trail that would lead home, albeit in a round-about way.  It increased the distance to about 1/3 mile, but it was fairly clear and even the creek crossing was shallow and nicely graveled.

Remember in my last post when I mentioned that we trained all our pigs to come to our voices and buckets of feed?  We do so for times like these.  After I located the sow, thanks to her rooting behavior and a noisy baby making grunting noises, I began to call her.  I immediately radioed S, who brought out a bucket of grain.  When she heard our voices, she came running.  She actually followed me out to the trail, and a couple hundred feet down the trail for some grain.  When she stopped to eat, S and I dropped a pre-shaped hog panel over the top her and jumped on the sides of the panel.  This was an idea I had learned from Walter Jeffries.

Why jump on, you might ask?  Because once a pig realizes it has been caught, it tries to escape.  In this case, the two of us outweighed the sow by about 25 lbs.  We tried this technique to move a bigger sow between pens once before, but had to use three adults to outweigh her.  We stood on that panel for a couple of minutes as she slung herself (and us) from side to side and up and down.  (Who needs to pay for a carnival ride?!)  Finally, she calmed down.  Meanwhile, we had JR handy to keep her baby close to her.  Even though he was on the outside of the panel, we quickly discovered that as long as she could see him, she stayed calmer.

Once she calmed down, we gently lifted the panel about 1/2 inch off the ground, and encouraged her to walk forward with it.  She did.  Hesitantly at first, but she soon figured it out.  We assigned JR the task of keeping the baby pig in front of her, so she would essentially follow him.  As long as they don’t lay down, they tend to want to move in the direction the panel moves.  I cannot explain why this works, when almost no other amount of pushing or shoving works, but it does.  After the initial shock of her realizing she was caught, she was quite calm and relaxed.  We would stop and give me her a quick break periodically, feed her a few treats, and then move on.  Down the trail, up the trail, over the creek, through the rocks, across the front yard, across the sidewalks, and onto the driveway.  Finally, about 45 minutes after we had caught her, we arrived at the permanently fenced winter paddock!


So, now you know how to move a pig!  You never know….that info might come in handy one day!

Oh, the saga of our pigs!   As you may recall, we decided to raise the heritage breed known as Red Wattles.  They are popular with small farms due to their gentle, social natures, even though they are full-sized hogs.  They also happen to be awesome at living in nature and foraging for much of their food.  Their meat has won many blind taste-tests with professional chefs around the nation, due to its deep, rich, almost beef-like flavor.  Thus, all that info convinced us, and in 2013, we entered the world of raising Red Wattle feeder pigs.


All went pretty smoothly.  We did our best to learn from others, trained all our pigs to electric wire, rotated them through overgrown woodlands, and so forth.  We trained them to the sound of a bucket, the sound of our voices, and treats like milk to help get them where we needed them to go.  All went quite smoothly, and we increased our numbers of feeders slightly each year.  Then, this spring, we discovered our supplier had retired and sold all their pigs.  So, we decided to take the next step and jump into the world of breeding and farrowing hogs in addition to raising feeders.

We found a family getting out of hogs, selling 2 sows and their remaining 9, 3-month-old feeder pigs.  We bought the whole lot.  I was so excited.  They even delivered!  They arrived, opened the trailer, and the reality of our decision hit me like a brick wall….or, rather, like the stubbornness of a 400 lb sow!  The sows were huge….comparable to the big barrow we had raised the year prior.  But the difference there was that we raised him and knew him, and he knew us.  We knew nothing about these sows and their quirks.  It was quite intimidating.  We also quickly discovered another issue.  The feeders in the lot included 2 boars (in tact male pigs).  They were already at a size where we couldn’t really handle them to castrate, as we have no special facilities.  Thus, the decision was made to leave them in tact and butcher before they were interested in breeding.  After all, the books said the young boars were too small to breed their mothers, and their sisters would be at least 8 months old before they were really fertile.  That gave us plenty of time to ship the boys to market, right?


As usual, all went pretty smoothly for a few months.  Since the sows had already weaned the pigs, we were able to keep them all together, which made EVERYTHING easier.  We got to know the pigs, and they got to know us.  We spent extra time loving on the sows to make them as friendly as possible in anticipation of future farrowing.  We even started looking for a nice Red Wattle boar to mate them with.

Then reality happened.  We walked out one day, when the pigs were around 6 months old and discovered those boys getting a bit frisky with their sisters.  Hmmmm….we weren’t prepared to separate anyone.  So we started brainstorming.  We decided to do the unthinkable.  We decided to let nature take its course.  Based on the looks we have gotten from experienced hog breeders, that is not a popular option, apparently.  Then again, we do a lot different around here, so why not?  We figured any gilts that got bred would be shipped off to the processor before they were too far along, so no worries there. It saved us the expense of purchasing an outside boar and then wintering him over.  It also meant we had a chance of having our first litters by mid-fall, which set us up perfectly to offer pork to our customers in the spring.  After the sows were confirmed pregnant, we could ship the boar off to the processor to save the expense of wintering over.  What could go wrong?


Our RW boar, happy to serve!

Fall rolled around, and with it came a reality check.  We hauled most of the gilts and one boar to the processor.  We hadn’t seen signs of pregnancy in the sows yet, so we decided to hang on to the other boar.  We also didn’t have one of the gilts sold, so we decided to hang on to her for a bit.  If she wound up farrowing, we were OK with that.  Not long after, the processor informed us that EVERY single gilt they butchered was at least half way through her pregnancy!  This meant two things….our remaining gilt was likely due to farrow within the month, and we apparently had a very fertile line of pigs, seeing as how all boars and gilts were apparently fertile and breeding by 6 months of age!  Ok, deep breath…we would stay the course.

We began watching the gilt.  It wasn’t long before her milk came in, and we knew the time was close.  After reading and talking with other natural pig raisers, we took an electric wire and partitioned off a section of the paddock so she could have some privacy.  We set her up with food, water, and shelter.  It was a perfect delivery and post-partum area!  We just forgot to ask her opinion.  She broke right through the electric line and ran to be with the rest of the herd.  We figured we’d try again in a few days.  After all, the books said she would develop wax droplets on her teats just before farrowing, and there was none of that.  Clearly we had time.  Then, she didn’t show up for breakfast.  Or dinner.


Bad angle, here, but you can just see her milk ridgeline on her belly, and her teats beginning to fill.  Time is getting close!  In fact, she farrowed about 2 days after this photo was taken.

We knew she was nesting somewhere.  We went off in search of her, somewhere deep in the woods and thickets of their 2 acre paddock.  After several hours of searching, we found no sign of her.  Just before we convinced ourselves she was the champion of hiding places, someone spotted cloven hoofprints in the mud…..outside the pen!  They were clearly pig and not deer, as determined by the depth and spacing.  And they were all over the place out there!  She had clearly wandered those woods for hours, stopping occasionally to take a drink from a puddle, and then moving on in search of her perfect nesting spot.  By now, darkness had set in, and we were searching by flashlight, to no avail.  If you have any remote fear of darkness or dark forests, try to imagine hunting for a 300 lb, potentially aggressive/protective sow in the dark, fearing you will stumble on her nest at any moment!  After several more hours, we finally gave up, praying she hadn’t gone too far, hoping she was still on our property, and fearing we were officially responsible for a new wild hog population in central IL.  Of all the ways we could have experienced our first major escape, it just HAD to be a gilt due to farrow!

The next day we searched some more.  When still nothing turned up, we decided to set out some feed in bowls along some paths, hoping she would find them.  We checked off and on through the day, only to find untouched feed bowls.  The third day, I went down to check the bowls, and lo, and behold, there she was!  She was devouring that food like she was starving….and, I noted, she was about 30 lbs lighter!  So, I selected a hiding spot, waited until her breakfast was over, and decided to let her lead me back to the nest.  That was easier said than done!  I cannot tell you the agility, contortionist maneuvers, and other feats I put myself through, trying to follow a 250 lb sow, almost running, under brush, through ravines, across briar patches, and more.  But, she took me straight to the nest…..which was only about 50 feet from her original pen, but surprisingly far from the food bowl where I found her.

Sadly, I discovered 2 dead pigs outside the nest, and only 1 little guy still alive in the nest.  I have no idea what happened, how many there were originally, and never will.  She wouldn’t let us closer than about 5 feet from the nest (yup, I learned just how fast a mama sow can charge!  YIKES!), so S decided to run new electric lines to create a new pen around her nest.  It joined up to the original pen, in the hopes she would want to return there soon.  After all, the books said sows like to return to the group within 3-7 days.

Fast forward a few weeks.  Mama pig and her baby were still perfectly content in their makeshift paddock, and we had no idea how we were going to get her back in with the rest of the group.


There was still no sign of pregnancy in the 2 big sows, so we took them to the vet for an ultrasound to figure out what our next move would be.  After all, feeding 2, now 500-lb sows and a 300-lb boar can get really expensive, really fast– especially with winter coming.  The good news was that both older sows showed little piggies in their bellies!  The bad news was that, shortly after we returned home, we discovered the mama pig had escaped her nesting paddock.  Guess that was her way of telling us it was time to move on! More importantly, it was clear that electric wire no longer could contain her!  Now we were faced with the problem of finding and catching her, and somehow getting her to a pen 1/3 mile away, over rough terrain, then reintroducing her into the herd, which isn’t as easy as it sounds after a month of separation.

Long, 2-day story shortened (details to come later!), we finally found her, caught her, moved her 1/3 mile back home to a permanent pen, moved all the other pigs to the permanent pen to join her, castrated her little boy to avoid future surprises, and everyone lived happily ever after….at least for now!


A couple of years ago, I stumbled on an idea that was so brilliant, it was almost unbelievable.  Here at Red Gate Farm, we try to house and manage our animals as naturally as possible.  That includes our horses.  As is the case with most horse owners, we had the idea in our heads that the most “natural” way to manage our horses was by keeping them out on our beautiful pastures, and rotating the pastures regularly to simulate the way wild herds move.  We were so excited to finally have such a beautiful pasture to keep our horses.


Within months of weaning them onto the pasture, the problems started.  Fevers, abscesses, sole bruises, laminitis, hoof rings, thrush, and more.  Within a year, my work horses were lame more than they were sound.  We consulted with vets, farriers, draft experts, and draft owners.  I read books, researched, and could not figure out the problem.  At the experts’ advice, we fed expensive supplements and high-quality hay when not on pasture.  We finally resorted to shoeing, just to keep the boys working–we are a horse-powered farm after all.  Mind you, I have owned and/or trained horses for almost 20 years, with a few years off here or there.  In those 20 years, I have housed horses in stalls, dry paddocks, stalls with runs, and almost every option available.  I had never had a single issue of unexplained lameness, never an abscess, and never had to shoe a horse.  For a while, I suspected it was an issue limited to draft genetics, but then, one day, our new mustang came up lame as well.  She was as sound as any mustang I’d ever worked with, so this truly baffled me.  Then, it occurred to me.  In my previous years of owning horses, I had always lived in the desert, on sandy soils, or in the Rocky Mountain areas–none of which had lush, green grass.  Usually, the horses lived in stalls or dirt paddocks, and the few times they had access to fresh pasture, it was thin, short, weedy, overgrazed, low-sugar, rough forages, common to many boarding stables around the country.  I realized the biggest change in our horse management was the new, rich pasture.  Furthermore, it occurred to us that the few places in our nation that do NOT have herds of wild horses include the central midwestern region or states with lush forages.  Even the herds that live along the east coast live on sandy beaches and islands.  We were convinced this was the culprit.  We didn’t want to stall the horses, and I didn’t have a dirt paddock large enough to keep several horses.  Thus, we quickly threw together an electric wire paddock on a portion of our gravel driveway to buy us some time.  The photo shows the horses sporting their ridiculously pricey fly sheets, as one of the downsides of confining was that they could no longer escape the vicious and persistent horse flies here.


Meanwhile, I continued researching the best option for permanent housing.  I stumbled upon a great study of wild horse herds, and the research resulted in a domestic-horse management concept called ” Paddock Paradise.”  Essentially, it was designed by farrier and wild-horse expert Jamie Jackson to simulate the diet, eating habits, herd dynamics, and movements of the wild horses.  First, the horses are removed from free-choice pasture, and put on a diet of low-sugar, high-roughage hay.  Ideally, the sugar content is less than 10%.  Then, rather than stalls, runs, or small paddocks, the horses are given a track to live on.  Similar to a racetrack, the track is designed in such a way as to encourage movement and stimulation of the horse.  Many build the track around the perimeter of their pasture, while some zig-zag  or meander the track through their terrain.  Most tracks are some form of continuous loop, but others dead end into a wide area and force the horses to turn around.  Either way can work.  Most of the track is narrow–about 10-15 foot wide.  It may get a bit narrower in some areas, and wider in others, but for the most part, that standard width encourages forward movement.


Our little herd traveling from their water station to one of the hay stations.  This section of track is 15 feet wide–our standard for most of the track.

Then, “stations” are set up along the track.  There is a water station, a hay station, a mineral station, and in the case of long tracks, there may be several of each.  You can also get creative.  There can be “stations” for rolling and lounging, obstacles, water crossings, different surfaces along the track, and more.  The imagination is the limit, but the idea is to keep the horses moving to meet their needs–just like horses in the wild.


By using a high electric line, it still allows the horses to graze a little, but not enough to cause health troubles. One extra benefit….a nicely grazed strip means I never have to trim around my fence posts!


One of our”obstacle” sections, where the horses learn to pick up their feet to cross over the logs along this stretch of track.


This area of track can be closed off to double as a round pen where I can train as desired. Otherwise it stays open with the track passing through, and the horses selected it as their favorite rest and rolling area. Notice there is no manure in this area, even though they have had access to it for over a year (we have NEVER cleaned the manure in that year!).

In our case, we eliminated the expensive supplements, switched to the low-sugar hay, eliminated the sugary grains (oats only for the working horses), and moved the horses into the track.  The mysterious fevers and sudden bouts of lameness stopped immediately.  Within 2 months, the hooves began looking different, and within 4 months, we were able to remove their shoes for standard farm work.  With regular trims, the hoof flares began disappearing, the cracks began growing out, and the thrush and white line issues became almost non-existent.  After a year, the only issue we really dealt with was occasional sole tenderness when we worked the horses on sharp gravel, which made sense considering most of their track was our wet clay soils (too much moisture results in softer soles and hooves).

Other benefits we have seen include a change in herd dynamics.  The “herd” traveled together along the track, established a predictable routine, designated bathroom areas (known as “stud piles” in the wild) for manuring, and our horse who NEVER laid down previously began laying down to rest on occasion.


Moving as a herd along the track.


In the lower left corner, you can see one of the herd’s designated “stud piles” for manuring. This photo was taken over a year after putting the horses in this track, and we have NEVER cleaned the manure. Notice, however, that there is no manure anywhere else in the photo. The horses can be seen resting in the shade of the trees at the far end.

I had several concerns when we first opted to try it out.  I was very concerned about one of our horses, Bud, losing condition.  He was atypical of most drafts, in that he was a “high-maintenance” horse or “hard-keeper.”  He required almost twice the grain and hay of the other drafts, and it seemed I was always fighting to get him to gain weight.  When our work season really got busy, we had to increase his feed further, and he still looked a bit thin with ribs showing within a couple months.  I wasn’t confident this new system would work well for him.  Boy, was I wrong!  As it turned out, I was always battling adding a fat layer to him.  The increased movement caused him to muscle up, and improved his metabolism.  That’s about the only way I can explain it.  He has looked awesome every since, despite the fact his work load has more than doubled from that first year!


Physical condition is excellent to due to the increased movement.  This mustang is a bit on the pudgy side, in fact, but her muscle development has given her a much broader body type compared to most domesticated mustangs.

Our first big “test” of the conditioning came the following spring.  Every spring, we take the horses to an annual “plow day,” where teamsters from several states come together to enjoy plowing fields with their teams of horses.  The downside of spring plowing is the plowing is one of the toughest jobs you can ask a horse to do physically, and this particular event tends to be right at the end of winter, when the horses are in their worst “winter” condition–otherwise known as fat and out of shape!  That spring, however, was different for us.  Due to personal circumstances, we had been unable to work the team at all for over 2 months.  As usual, we saw teams needing breaks after just 1/2 hour, and stopping completely after about 2-3 hours of plowing.  With just quick pauses to catch their breath, however, our team was still going strong after 4 hours, and hadn’t even broken a sweat!  And for those who are familiar with horse-plowing, my team was pulling a 14-inch sulky plow, dropped about 8 inches in!  I truly was surprised and even amazed at their condition.

GPS tracking studies have shown that horses living on tracks situated along the perimeter of averaged sized pastures (roughly 1-5 acres), can move significantly more than when housed on pasture.  Of course, the longer the track, the more that can increase.  Although horses can still be turned out into the pasture for periodic grazing, the time should be limited to no more than 30 minute periods of time, unless your pasture is very sparse or weedy.  Lush pastures should be limited to about 15 minutes.


A sketch of our current Paddock Paradise track, which is situated along the perimeter of our 6 acre pasture. Since we no longer use the pasture for significant horse grazing, it is now used to produce small amounts of hay and to graze our grass-fed cattle and pasture-based poultry.

A few other benefits of track housing is that horses do not get bored, and thus do not develop boredom-related behavioral issues such as cribbing, pawing, pacing, and general crankiness.  I do not have to “lunge” or “get the spunk out” of my horses before riding, as they are already exercised and ready to go, both mentally and physically.

So, with all the good that comes from a system like this, could there be a negative side to it?  The answer is “Yes,” though I have only found one downside.  When horses are allowed to live in a herd setting, with increased movement and natural environments, injuries are bound to happen.  Scrapes, dings, nicks, lumps, bumps, bite marks, and chewed-on hair have become quite normal for our horses.  Think of it like children….you can keep them confined all day and protect them from injury, or you can let them out to play at the risk of scraped knees and elbows.  Same principle applies here.  It isn’t terribly unsightly, but it is a fact that might not go over well in a show-barn.  However, in our case, the mental and physical benefits we have observed in our horses make every little scar totally worthwhile.


Some lumps, bumps, and dings one of our team showed up to breakfast with one morning.

Now that we have used our Paddock Paradise for over a year, we hope to never have to return to any other way of managing horses!  I cannot express to you all the incredible benefits we have seen.  Our Amish friends, whose livelihood depends on their horses, have watched as our horses have changed over time, and they are even considering trying it now.  If you have your own property, I highly encourage you to consider using this system.  If, however, you are stuck at a boarding stable, I encourage you to talk to the stable manager.  Show them this post.  I also wrote an article about it that was published in “Rural Heritage” magazine.  Boarding stables around the world have found success with this system.  It just works.  We purchased an “easy-keeping” little mini horse at one point who formerly ate about 1/8 flake of hay a day while house in a dray paddock, and was still roly-poly fat!  We put him on track, and despite having free-choice access to hay 24/7, he lost the weight and muscled up, thanks to the increased movement!  If you have easy-keeping ponies, hard-keeper horses, geriatric horses, rescues needing rehab, you name it… may have to modify slightly to begin with, but ultimately, I’d be willing to bet they would thrive on this system!  There are just too many personal testimonies out there to suggest otherwise.

We are actually in the process of building our 2nd Paddock Paradise now.  We are moving the track to our back acreage, so we can increase the length and the things they are exposed to.  Our new track will be longer, have water crossings, steep hills, long stretches for galloping, more hard surfaces (and less clay), and more!  We hope to move the horses in before the end of the year.  It requires a good bit of land clearing, which is taking time, but we are making progress.  There you have it!

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.


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!


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.


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!

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.


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.





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.


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.


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

Once again, I’ve broken my own record for time away.  Once again, I miss it, and figured I should check in.  So much has been happening around the farm, I don’t even know where to begin.  It seems to me some fun photos would be a good place to start.  We are still suffering through bitter cold and counting the days until spring.  It was a dry winter until February hit, and we finally got snow.  And the snow just keeps coming every couple of days.  An inch here, 6 inches there.  That might not mean much to you, but for me, it means I get to use the horse-drawn snow plow we bought last fall!  Enjoy!!

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This past 2 weeks, S decided he felt ready to switch roles again.  He wanted to take over farm work and let me go back to being mom, wife, cook, and so forth.  If you’ve followed for a while, you are likely aware that S ripped a tendon in both elbows.  We don’t know how he did it.  He literally woke up one morning with his arms hurting.  Nothing unusual had happened the day before, so he thought perhaps he had a touch of tendonitis.  I won’t repeat everything I posted previously, but suffice it to say, after 3 doctors and specialists and 2 physical and occupational therapists, his condition continued to worsen.  The medical professionals he spoke with all agreed that pain should be his guide.  One doctor told him not to lift over 20 lbs, and all said essentially, “If it hurts, don’t do it or you might tear the tendon completely from the bones.”  As time went on, the pain progressed to the point that he couldn’t do hardly anything.  JR had to tie his shoes for him, I had to button his shirts.  As his condition worsened, my work load increased.  Not only was I running the farm and lifting anything over 20 lbs (i.e. feed bags, hay bales, digging, shoveling, harnessing, firewood, you name it!), but as he worsened, I also had to take over more inside.  I had to strip beds for the younger kiddos, and remake all beds. S could still cook, but I had to move the pots around the kitchen for him. He was left basically cooking, doing light cleaning, and folding laundry.  His biggest task was homeschooling the kids, because it was about the only thing he could do that didn’t cause pain.  Talk about a rough few months!   Just think about everything you use your arms for!  At one point, I desperately needed help moving some hay.  S got resourceful to get the job done without using his arms:



He had to go and buy a pair of slip-on muck boots and avoid button-shirts, just so he could dress without assistance.  Brushing his teeth hurt.  We had to use our hard-earned savings to hire help to get tasks completed that I just couldn’t do alone.  You get the idea.

At wit’s end, S saw a new specialist.  We don’t know the guy’s full history, but he was an orthopedist who may have had some training in Chinese medicine.  In any case, he scoffed at the advice from all the other doctors and therapists.  He said basically, “Of course it’s gonna hurt!  You ripped two tendons, and everything is going to make it hurt!  For the next 6 months or so, you are going to be in pain, whether you use them or not.  So use them.  Don’t overuse them, and don’t do anything ridiculously strenuous.  Sharp pain is bad, but dull pain and general ashiness is fine and expected.  Work through it, and come back in 5 weeks.”  Crazy as it sounded, nothing else was working, so S decided to try it.  He started working, slowly at first, and gradually increasing.  At first there was pain, but amazingly, the pain began decreasing each day until it just wasn’t there.  A month in, he said he was ready to take over.  He is now using his chainsaw (on a limited basis), hauling things (still tries to keep weight under about 30 lbs.), and has taken over all outdoor chores.  He is even milking the goats to give me a break, which was impossible from the intense pain 2 months ago.

No, his tendon’s haven’t reattached.  We have a few theories, but ultimately, we have to give God credit for the healing that has happened.  S is careful not to overdo things, per the doctor’s advice, but he fully expected to deal with pain for the next 6 months or more.  Yet, it disappeared.  That cannot be explained.  The only time he has an issue now is if he works a bit too hard one day, then he might just have some slight discomfort/achiness at the end of the day.


S chainsawing logs, while JR and M use the log-splitter to turn the smaller logs into firewood. R and the little boys helped by stacking the firewood. A great afternoon of family team-work!


We have discussed the challenges we have faced over the last 6-8 months.  S feels strongly that God has been trying to teach us a few lessons and prune us into what He has in store.  Despite the challenges, it did force us to make some changes for the better.  We realized that all our children were plenty old enough to help out a little more.  We taught the youngest how to strip their beds on laundry day, and the oldest how to re-make their beds.  We bought a bedwetting system for A to help reduce the laundry, and although we are still going through the process, it seems to be working.  We changed chores around a bit to spread the load a little.  We expected a little more from the younger children, rather than having them play any time they weren’t in school.  We joined some great work exchange programs, which I will discuss later.  S even used some of his “free” time to become a bit of an activist on legislative issues around our state.  S values my house-work a bit more, and I have a new appreciation for the tremendous amount of work he does around the farm.  Certainly I had my moments of frustration, as did he.  However, if faced with the right attitude, we believe any challenge can teach us and grow us into better people.  It can improve communication and team work among a family.  And it can make us all stronger in the end.  We aren’t totally out of the storm yet, and still face some challenges, but things are looking up, and we hope this season is coming to an end.

We raised 2 Red Wattle hogs in the forest again this year.  This year, however, we raised barrows (castrated boys) instead of gilts (girls) like last year.  Man, oh, man did those boy grow fast!!  The first hog was sold to customers, and we wound up taking it to the processor several months earlier than planned (the schedule being based on the gilts’ growth last year).  At 6 months old, his hanging weight came to 198 lbs, which is roughly 300 lbs. live weight.  The second hog was destined for our own freezer.  Typically, we butcher our personal animals right here on the farm.  In order to do the larger animals such as hogs and beef, we have to wait for colder weather so we can hang the sides in our garage for a cooling and aging period.  So, after the first hog left, we kept the remaining hog as happy as we could.  We supplied him with happy-hog-staples such as mud, fresh forest forage, roots, nuts, kitchen leftovers, milk and whey, hog feed, whatever we could think of.  Maybe we over did it a little.  Just a little.

OK, a LOT.

When it looked as though S’s elbows were not healing, the decision was made to send our hog to the processor as well.  He was getting to expensive to feed, and he wouldn’t stop growing.  One evening, we bribed him with a little milk, got him up into the trailer (you can youtube “elephant seal trying to climb onto a car” if you want a visual), gave him a pile of soft hay to nest into, and let him settle in for the night.  We just hoped our trailer survived until morning.  Early the next morning, S drove him to the processor.  The workers in the livestock area took one look at him laying all comfy-cozy in his hay bed, and said, “uh, how do we get him out?”  They then proceeded to look at each other with each stating his position that he would NOT enter that trailer with that beast.  So, not wanting to hold up the line, S said, “don’t worry, I’ll get him out.”  He jumped up in the trailer, called him, gave him a scratch behind the ears, and bribed him out of the trailer in seconds.  The livestock guys stood there with their chins on the loading ramp.  Guess they hadn’t seen it done that way before.  It’s so much easier in our opinion, but really, what do we know?  It is only our 4th hog after all.


By that afternoon, we had a hanging weight of 289 lbs, which equates to over 400 lbs live weight.  I realize that isn’t a huge hog by any stretch of the imagination.  I’ve seen some approaching 800-1000 lbs.  THAT is impressive!  Nonetheless, he was twice the size of a typical hog at processing time.  As it turned out, not only did he have some impressively large pork chops cut out of his sides, but he also had 3 inches of back fat.  Seeing as how S asked the processor for the fat, which is now being stored in my freezer, I’m seeing a lot of lard-making in the not-too-distant future.

Then, by the time I get that task completed, it will be time to start all over.  We’ve already ordered up 6 hogs for next year.  Believe it or not, we are excited about it.  Hogs can be a lot of fun, but there’s no way I can convince you of that.  You’ll just have to try raising one yourself.

I posted previously about one of our horses, Nick, being injured.  He was at the vet for 2 weeks, but started going a little insane being cooped up.  He blew his second set of sutures, the splint rubbed parts of leg raw, and he became extremely, dangerously protective of his wound.  The vet really couldn’t do much else, so he made some recommendations, and Nick came home to continue basic treatment, as we had more experience dealing with big horses and could work with him as needed to do what needed to be done.  After Nick had a follow-up check 3 weeks later, the vet told us that the injury was not healing properly, and we had to choose between 3 options:  euthanize him, turn him out to pasture with the other horses and let nature take its course, or spend another several thousand dollars to run all sorts of tests and treatments to get him healed–still with no guarantee of him being able to work again.  As it was, we had been hosing and treating him twice a day, hand-walking and letting him graze 2-3 times a day, in addition to spending non-treatment time with him.  Because he wouldn’t leave his wound alone, we tried making a “bib” to prevent him from biting it, but he used the bib to scratch it open.  The vet had tried wrapping it, but he chewed the wrap off.  We researched a neck cradle, but no material was safe for a draft horse of his size and strength.  When we tried to get creative, he would simply bang his knee against the stall walls to scratch it, which kept making the wound worse.  The final straw was when it was finally looking like the granulation tissue was filling in, and he did something during the night that caused the entire thing to split wide open, even ripping into fresh, previously uninjured tissue.  Here’s a photo of the wound when he came home from the vet, after blowing the second set of sutures:


Here’s what the wound looked like 3 weeks later, after his chewing, pawing, banging, and finally ripping it open:


The simple fact was, despite our hard work and best efforts, he wasn’t improving.  It looked awful, and a lingering infection just would not clear up.  After much prayer and discussion, we decided for option #4.  One of S’s cousins, who lives in FL, has a passion for rehabilitating sick or injured horses.  It’s just what she loves to do.  She had offered to take him on.  We contacted him, and gave her an idea of what our vet had recommended for further treatment options.  We sent photos to her vet, an equine specialist in an area known for its large numbers of high value performance horses, and her vet spoke with our vet to get his opinion.  Finally, the decision was made that Nick would head to FL.  I quickly got his papers in order, and left early one morning.  For the sake of Nick’s wound, we decided to layover one night, about half way through the trip.  The next day, I dropped him off in FL, drove back to meet my mom in GA, and the third day, drove back home.  Talk about a quick trip!  I have no doubt, though, that Nick is in the best place he could be, if not with us.  He will be well loved, well cared for, and given the best vet care possible.  We miss him terribly already, but I admit, our stress level has been reduced substantially.  They are keeping us updated, and her vet is using several methods our vet never considered–such as oxygen therapy and potentially even maggot therapy.  Yes, I said maggot–as in fly larvae.  I am very interested to see how it all works out.

While all this was going on, it was decided we could not run the farm as efficiently with only Bud working single.  He was doing great with the re-training process, but we realized we could really use another horse to fill the void left by Nick.  Not to mention, Bud was going to be lost without a companion.  So, after some searching, we found a replacement.  Meet “Bill.”


Bill is an 11 year old Belgian gelding.  He has spent most of his life doing farm work, though he was a bit out of shape when we found him.  He is not Nick at all, but he is a good boy, and he is filling Nick’s spot sufficiently.  Bud was thrilled to have a friend again, and they quickly adjusted to working as a team.  Bill’s only real downside is that his previous owner apparently used a much stronger hand than I do, so I’ve had my work cut out teaching him to be softer on the bit.  He is improving with every drive, though, and we are enjoying him more and more as the weeks go by.  In fact, we recently decided he was doing well enough, that we entered our first parade!  Both boys did awesome!


In addition, we have been busy filling wagon-ride commitments we made prior to Nick’s injury, which we couldn’t have done without Bill.  Our wagon ride business really seems to be taking off, and we get requests with increasing frequency.  We are now looking for a vis-a-vis carriage so we can branch out into offering a horse-drawn carriage for weddings and other special occasions.  In addition, we decided we should venture further into the horse-powered farm work, both to keep the boys busy, and in shape, and to let them earn their keep more.  We purchased a good forecart so we can now grade (without me eating dust!) and pull our gas-powered mower deck to mow the grass.


 It also has a plow attachment so we can move dirt/gravel around and plow snow this winter.  As if that wasn’t enough, we also got skis for our wagon, so when it is crisp and snowy out, we can replace the wagon tires with the skis, and go for our first sleigh ride!  As usual, time will tell how this all plays out, but winter could be interesting this year!

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