March 22, 2016

Spring Brings New Faces on the Farm

I love this time of year! Spring holds so much promise, and new life is springing up everywhere from green grass to crocuses and tulips to new baby farm critters!

I mentioned in my last post that we had an explosion of piglets on the farm. In the course of a week our three purebred Tamworth gilts had their first litters. Together Clover, Kasey, and Ruby gave birth to thirty-five piglets, and so far thirty survive. The new mamas are Hazel's offspring from last March.

Clover 10/2015
Ruby 10/2015
Kasey 10/2015
A lot can go wrong in the first few days of a piglet's life. They are so tiny compared to their mothers who weigh almost four hundred pounds. The little oinkers don't move very fast, so it is easy for accidents to occur. Of the five piglets that died, three were stillborn. We do not know how the other two died.  One was sluggish from the get go and died within the first twenty-four hours, but the other looked healthy and was seemingly out of the danger zone when it died soon after I wrote my last post.

These are our first piglets using a boar in lieu of AI (artificial insemination), and we're pretty happy with the results! Jim Bob has turned out to be a wonderful boar! Not only does he have a great personality, he apparently has excellent swimmers!

Jim Bob 
We are very fortunate that the new mothers allow us into their pens and even let us hold their babies.  I've heard a lot of mamas go bat crazy when they have piglets and you can't even go near them.

I know you must be wondering how we can even function with all the cuteness around. Believe me when I say it's hard not to spend all afternoon in the barn letting them nibble on our boots and pants.  

We do not use farrowing crates but do put each mother in her own birthing pen in the barn. Each pen varies in size, but they have plenty of room to get up and roam around.We also choose not use heat lamps because of the danger they pose. Typically we try for March litters which can still be quite cold, but they have always done fine cuddling up together.

Not only do we have new additions in the pig barn, but there is a new addition in the bovine barn!! Last month we acquired an 8 month old Jersey heifer named Liberty from a little homestead in Ohio much like our own. She's a cutie with her white-rimmed nose and those well-known Jersey eyes. She can be a pistol just like any adolescent cattle. Lilly is going to show her at the fair this fall and has already begun training her.

Not only do we have a new heifer in the barn, but we're expecting Irma to give birth at any moment. Last June she miraculously took on the very first AI attempt. If you all remember correctly, she was bred to a black Wagyu. She's officially due on Saturday, and all the signs are there. We're just waiting.....nervously.

The fun won't stop with Irma's baby. By the end of the April we should have baby bunnies and more piglets too! Oh, spring I love you!

**If you want to stay up to date on the happenings at York Zoo, 
like our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram!**

March 18, 2016

Three Years

Last month marked our third year living on the old farm. It seems like forever ago that we sold our beautiful colonial home for this old ramshackle farmhouse with its historic big red barns; I suppose it feels much longer because we've worked our fannies off and accomplished a lot in the past thirty-seven months.

In three years we went from the standard dog and cat family with no farming background to raising chickens, quail, ducks, turkeys, peafowl, swine, bovine, bees, and rabbits. If my girls were in charge, we would increase this list and add sheep, goats, and every little girl's dream-a horse. But giving that our number one rule is that every animal we raise has to contribute either by being food itself or producing food means that they'll never get that horse, and as a part of necessity, we've learned how to do our own butchering. Thankfully, my husband is a hunter and also went to culinary school; consequently, he taught us all the ropes when it came time to fill our freezer with our own homegrown meat.

While butchering is not my favorite activity, it is strangely satisfying to be a part of the full circle of life; from the day of birth to the day of harvesting we've been there caring and nurturing for God's creatures. I've already spoken about how I don't think I'll ever understand the seeming contradiction of caring for and loving an animal yet willingly taking its life, but it is part of life, especially life on a farm.

In three years we've hatched baby chicks, ducklings, and quail. We've witnessed the birth of a calf, rabbits, and lots of piglets. Sometimes things go smoothly. Like for instance, this past week we had near perfect births from gilts that produced a total of 31 purebred Tamworths piglets! (Can I get a whoop, whoop?) But sometimes things don't go smoothly. We've had births that required the assistance of our novice hands like when Milton was born and Stella had her piglets last May. Life always has a way of throwing the occasional curve ball.

In three years we've scooped ungodly amounts of manure, carried a bazillion buckets of water, lugged heavy bales of straw and hay. We've chased way too many escaped pigs and been drug around the pasture by calves.

We've milked gallons and gallons of milk; turned cream into pounds and pounds of butter; and collected dozens upon dozens of eggs.

In three years we've planted a small field of lavender, seeded pasture, and grown a yearly garden
which keeps getting smaller and smaller. (The only thing around here that we scale down.) We've put up fencing and gates, built pens and roosts.

We've also made a lot of progress to the house itself in three years. Months before we officially moved in we turned the bathroom into the laundry room and a small bedroom into the bathroom.

We refinished the wood floors, put in new windows, and remodeled the entire downstairs. Most recently, we tore off a portion of our house and cooked in a barn for nine months while we almost doubled the size of our house.

Real life. I didn't even bother to clean for this photo.

We still have a lot more work to do. I doubt we'll ever be done; it's a work in progress. We've poured a lot of time, money, energy, blood, sweat, and tears in the life we have built here. In my heart I know the life lessons we've learned are more than worth it!



November 8, 2015

The Pond, the Road, and the Duck

In the next few weeks, I'm going to attempt to catch you all up on some of the bigger events that have taken place around the farm this past summer. It's obvious that I am having trouble finding time to sit at the computer to blog and getting back into the swing of things is a little difficult because it's hard to know exactly where to start. So I'll just have to dive in somewhere. Since last posting about the animals, we've experienced sadness from unexpected losses and the joy of new births.

We've been raising ducks since moving onto the farm nearly three years ago. This summer was the first time they noticed the glistening pond across the road and were no longer content with splashing and dipping their beaks in our mean....kiddie pool.  Did I mention the big, beautiful pond was across the road? Well, that road also happens to be rather busy. Despite keeping a watchful eye on them all summer and thwarting several of their attempts to dip their webbed feet in the forbidden water, the day came when the fast-moving traffic claimed the life of one of them.

The dreaded day happened while I was away visiting my best friend in South Carolina. I received a text from the older girls saying they found Bill, the duck, dead on the road. Catherine wasn't home at the time and the bad news hadn't been delivered. My heart sank knowing that I wouldn't be there to comfort her when she received the crushing blow to her ten-year old heart.  Catherine loves her ducks, and Bill, well, she just happened to be her favorite duck of all. Bill was one of the very first animals on this old resurrected farm and even achieved the coveted status of pet.

In this photo you can see the pond that eventually caught their eye, but here Bill and Judy were content to swim in their kiddie pool and listen to live music played by their sweet, Amish caretaker.

When Catherine did hear the news of Bill's untimely death, I'm told she bawled herself to sleep.
But time heals most wounds, and we're awfully glad to have so many special memories and photos of Bill and the joy she brought to all our lives. 

August 21, 2015

The Addition

Hey! I'm still here! I didn't fall off the face of the planet....really, I didn't! Lots of things have happened since I last posted: my parents visited us for a whole month; I went on a short getaway to South Carolina to see my bestie; Adam started school at a regular brick and mortar school; and I started school with the girls at home. But one of the biggest things happening on the farm this summer is our house addition.

We added over a thousand square feet, plus an unfinished basement. The first floor includes: an open kitchen and dining room; a mudroom/laundry room; a second bathroom, and a den. The walkout basement will be used as a mudroom for all our farm related attire and general storage.

We moved everything out of our old kitchen in early April and started cooking in what we use as our butcher barn. At first, I carried on as usual baking bread every day, tending to my kombucha, and feeding my sourdough starter. In the mornings I would make delicious sourdough pancakes topped with real cream and in the evening prepare thoughtful dinners. But now, only four months in, I can barely make myself go in there to put together something that even remotely resembles a meal.

Because of all the rain we received this spring and summer, progress was delayed many times. By the end of May we were finally able to get the basement dug which meant our yard was covered with giant mounds of clay. Lots of rain + clay = MUD.  Lots of it!

The concrete was poured in the beginning of June, and near the middle of the month, Joe set the steel joists and beams. Our first level is so solid you could drive a car on it!

Mid-July the house was mostly framed, the roof on the old part of the house was torn off, and new shingles were put on all of it. My folks got to be here for all the framing and my dad being an electrician by trade worked almost every single day at getting the basement all wired. I don't think his time here was much of a vacation.

While I was in South Carolina sipping wine and dining on THE best beef tartar with my bestie, Joe was busy framing in the stairs to the basement. After my return the workers came back and framed in the fireplace and put in the windows and exterior doors.

Joe and his dad have been working on the electrical stuff upstairs for the past week or so. I heard today that the masons are coming on Monday to put up the brick that we saved from our demolition of the old kitchen. Adam painstakingly cleaned each and every brick on his summer vacation. I'm anxious to see how different it will all look once the exterior is finished.

Lots of people ask us when it'll be done, and Joe always tells them that we hope to cook Christmas dinner in the new kitchen. I just tell myself I'll be cooking in the butcher barn forever...that way I won't be heartbroken if there are a few more bumps in the road.