Thursday, February 26, 2015

From Hobby to Business

It has been seven years since we bought our semi-rural property. Seven years of regrets and waiting, hoping, anxiety and many moments of thinking we would never be able to realize our dream of building a home there. And seven years of work. We are hoping that this year will be the one we can finally put a home there and finish the life changing move we had planned so long ago.

Our priorities have shifted from McMansion to a Minimal home that will be just enough. Our children are older and have had the privilege of experiencing farm life with all of its ups and downs.

We have gone through nice neighbors and mean neighbors and learned many valuable lessons about grumpy neighbors and nosy ones. We have learned that privacy is very valuable. While fences don't make good neighbors, they can certainly make boundaries when we are not present to enforce them with words.

In order to move forward with this plan to have a home there, it's time for the little hobby farm to become a real farm that pays its own way and with luck, also turns a profit. If you follow this blog, please send good vibes our way... 2015 is going to present many challenges.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Goodbye Lil Red Hen

The majority of our laying hens came from Murray McMurray Hatchery in the mail and I believe it was 2011 that they came to us as day old chicks. We ordered 25 because that was the minimum and we ordered a mixed assortment because I didn't really know what I wanted. We knew there would be roosters in there and we planned to eat them when the time came. Most of them we did. A few were spared and we have one left from that batch--my son's favorite. What I'm getting at is these birds were kinda old for layers. A chicken can live a long life if very well cared for--I've heard up to 12 years, but they stop laying way before then. And our layers are farm hens, no question about it.

They began life here at home in a brooder then when they were old enough, they lived in a chicken tractor at the farm. That way they were safe from predators and able to munch on greens every time I moved the tractor around. Most survived. We only lost one pretty splash hen very young.

The chickens graduated to free range in the goat pen status and lived there quite happily until something realized they were there--probably an owl or hawk. We lost a few to predators and it didn't take long to realize the birds needed to be cooped at night. Later I made the tough decision to pen them permanently for their own safety. Chickens taste good to a lot of predators and they're a fairly easy meal--especially at night.

One of our old red hens, a Rhode Island Red, wasn't doing so well a couple of days ago. She appeared to be eggbound and looked very much like a bloated penguin. I'd seen this condition on the Dr. Pol show and also looked it up in several online forums for recommendations on what to do to try and save her. I cleaned her off and washed out her egg maker slot then put her in quarantine so she wouldn't get picked on. Honestly though, the odds were not in her favor at all. She was very full of stuff and when I came today she was declining and still unable to pass anything.

I made the tough decision to put her down and bury her on the property. I've never dropped the axe on my birds--just rattlers--so it was not an easy chore for me. I brought her to the garden and let her sit in the sun for a while. She looked pretty miserable. I petted on her to keep her calm and stayed with her until her last moments.

I think it's important to understand that when we go into the responsibility of having livestock pets--because that's what the majority of my animals are, we have to accept that we will likely outlive them. Because they are livestock and tend to be high production animals, their bodies sometimes give out too soon. The kind thing to do in this case was not to allow her to slowly waste away and suffer. She had been a good hen and gave my family many eggs over the years. So, goodbye sweet little red hen. You did your job well.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Year's Snow in Tucson

New Year's Eve was spent at a friend's house near the ranch. We did chores later than usual that morning, knowing we'd be doing them well after midnight for the second round. Flakes of snow came fluttering down as we set off fireworks in our friend's driveway. For Tucson, this is a pretty big deal.

The snow stuck and had blanketed everything when we showed up to check on the ranch in the wee hours of January 1, 2015. I have learned not to fight too much with Mother Nature, so there is nothing covered with blankets to hold off the freeze. The plants need to go dormant for winter and be able to survive in our funky desert microclimate, otherwise it becomes far too much work and stress on me to try and baby them. Pictured is the raised bed with kale growing in it. And the kale, so far, has toughed it out.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


I planted artichokes in the raised beds of the Three Sisters Garden in 2012. They produced well. I picked the blooms and ate artichokes until I got tired of them and let their flowers run their course.

Artichokes are related to the thistle plant. If you let them go to seed, they make spectacular purple flowers that eventually dry out. This triggers the plant to go dormant and die back.

They are perennials, which means they will return year after year, sprouting back up like a Phoenix rising from its ashes.

My artichokes have been very low maintenance. I've even stopped watering them altogether. They are growing in a raised bed fertilized with composted cow manure and shaded by Canary Island date palms and wild amaranth when in season.

I went through last week and cut all the dead from the plants, discovering new growth beneath. All of the plants had flowers still attached and I sat and picked out the seeds, pictured below. Come spring, I'll drop them in the soil and hopefully have many more artichoke plants in the future.

Barren Space

There are spaces on the ranch that are fairly barren. They might grow a scant amount of short, scrubby grass that withers and dies with the first blasts of summer heat. Mostly it's because there are no trees shading these spots and the ground is flat.

Here is a section of this barren land behind the cow corral that I have decided to experiment with. Old fashioned furrows of earth, dug up with a hoe and layered with compost and mulch were slowly added over the course of a week. (The cows were fascinated.)

After they were built, I planted mangel seeds and sprinkled the rows with a pasture seed mix appropriate for our climate. I watered once and decided to let nature take over from there. This spot is far from the reach of the hose and I had to connect three hoses together to get to it.

It took a few weeks of waiting. And even though it's winter here, we did get some rains. I also noticed that the dew forming in the mornings was watering these little furrows daily.

Some days the dew forms frost on the rows and is melted down into the earth once the sun comes up, watering naturally.

I was skeptical that it would work, but my doubts were soon laid to rest...
The pasture grass has started to come up all over the rows but most heavily in the dips where the most water would naturally pool and soak in. No signs of the mangels yet. Mangels are a giant beets used for fodder for livestock.

Sustainability has always been my goal, and the more food I can grow for my livestock, the better. When the weather warms up, I plan to drop in organic, non GMO fodder corn seeds and transplant some mesquite trees to help nurture this once barren space.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Cow Butts

Left: Beef. Right: Dairy.

Fleece Drying Table

This handy dandy table was made from scraps around the ranch: 4 thick beams, two long pine boards, two short ones, and a couple of pieces of old fencing. The top is covered with plastic bird netting. Mom and I built it in about thirty minutes and it has made the washing and drying of fleece much easier.