2013 On The Way Out

This year has been both a really tough year, as well as a really great year for us here at Shantara Acres Farm.  It started out last January with me (the head milkmaid and soap maker) going back to school full time.  I have always and forever wanted to finish my degree, and when the financing came through I decided to go for it.  Sure, I’ll owe money probably forever, but in the face of a dream, what is money?

I’ve learned a few things this year that I’d like to share with everyone today, in hopes of providing a little encouragement to those who might be feeling just a little lost.

The first thing is that if you have a dream, and you must have a dream, you must follow that dream wherever it leads you.  Nobody is going to give you permission to go after your dream, and in fact, even people who love you may stand in your way, worried about you and what will become of the you they knew.  We are here on this Earth for just a short time.  Every second counts and we must spend as many of those seconds as we can in a forward motion towards the highest goals of our hearts…towards what makes our souls sing and shine.

I’ve learned that despite what others may say, the acquisition of money should never be the goal, instead, money is what flows naturally to you, when you are engaged in your dream and connecting with the great spirit.  (however you define that great spirit).  The greatest success in life is doing what you love.  And that may look different from day to day.

I’ve learned that Art and Creativity are NOT options to engage in when all the chores are done.  I’ve learned that Art and Creativity are the REASON for life…we still have to brush our teeth and go to work, but when we live from our hearts, and our souls are flourishing, we are at our highest best, and are a much bigger light in the world than when we are simply chasing around trying to get the bills paid.  The bills will get paid, we might as well enjoy the doing of it.

I’ve discovered, through my farm life, that the business end of the farm does not always need to make sense on paper to be successful.  Sometimes the smallest goat in the herd steps up her milk production in the fall, when everyone else is dropping down, and becomes the most amazing milker ever.  Sometimes the babies who don’t get sold in the fall hang around in the cold and bitter winter to provide hugs, kisses, and sweetness to humans who might not get that from those they love.  Sometimes those hay-burning horses out in the pasture provide enough beauty to last a whole day…and keep their caretakers out of the mental hospitals…who can put a price on that?

While I’ve never enjoyed the killing of things, I’ve discovered that a whole freezer full of my own, humanely raised and loved pork can provide a degree of freedom and relief as I pass by the conventionally raised meats in the grocery store…steaks and chops from animals that lived a life of stress and confinement, with happy moments few and far between.  I’ve learned that there is a certain rhythm that exists between humans, animals, and the planet, and that by living closer to the land, I’m able to connect with that rhythm and exist with it, without exploiting it.

I’ve learned that the people that you love don’t always love you back, at least not in the way that you’d hoped, but that life goes on and we can be happy despite being disappointed.  And in fact, it’s those disappointments and the realization that we might never truly please the one we think we love the most, that can catapult us into becoming our very best self.  And trying new things.  And going out on that limb.  Just when we think all is lost, we realize, finally, that we actually have nothing to lose.  Nothing.  And when we lose that fear, we gain our soul.  Again.

I wish you all a beautiful, peaceful end to 2013, and hope to see you all on the other side of January, fully engaged in living  your dreams.

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My youngest son Brandon a few years ago!

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Fall Is Here

This is my most beautiful girl (I think).  She has her mothers friendly and outgoing personality.  She is the loudest goat in the herd.  You can set your clock by this girl, who KNOWS when it's time to milk, and is NOT impressed by the time change.
This is my most beautiful girl (I think). She has her mothers friendly and outgoing personality. She is the loudest goat in the herd. You can set your clock by this girl, who KNOWS when it’s time to milk, and is NOT impressed by the time change.

I hope you are all enjoying the cool fall weather as much as I am!  No, I’m not a winter person at all, but with the onset of cooler temperatures, beautiful fall foliage, and the absence of flies and other pesky bugs, it’s always a welcome change from the heat that can sometimes be stifling here in Central Virginia.  The horses are always very happy about the cooler temps and get really frisky.  The goats however, are not similarly impressed.

Everything I read about my breed, the Alpine, says that they are hardy and do excellent in the harsh conditions of the Swiss Alps.  My girls must not be reading the same books as I do because they do not seem to like winter at all.  While the horses are running around kicking up mud clods, the goats are looking at me as if to say, “WHAT HAPPENED TO THE HEAT?”

For dairy goats, who can get thin at the drop of a hat, mine are pretty portly.  The bucks got sold last summer so that there wouldn’t be any craziness this fall with breeding woes.  I chose not to breed this season while I’m working on my degree full time.  With the extra weight they are carrying (due to lower milk production this time of year and only once a day milking) I expected that they would be only too happy to see the cold air.  But, they are not.  They love nothing more than to lay in the summer sun chewing their cud until it gets too hot.  It’s a little harder to do that when the ground is frosty.

Every girl on the farm is in heat right now.  They are noisy and boisterous and complain constantly about the lack of an attractive suitor.  I should have known they would not be happy about no fall romantic escapades.  Hopefully they will forgive me.  Or at least quit cycling.

It’s a rough life out here, but one I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Wishing you all a wonderful fall!

Animals and Children…go great together.

These are some pictures my daughter took of me and her son (my grandson) Ryland this week.  It’s amazing to me how children just naturally gravitate toward animals that are so much larger than they are.  Animals who can be naughty to each other, but in the presence of a child, are much more careful and inquisitive than normal.

Our Dog Chloe, All Grown Up…Almost

Dog Picked Up Out Of The Road As a Puppy
Chloe

This is Chloe.  Back in the spring of this year my daughter and I were driving to an early morning farmers market to sell soap, about 2 weeks after having to put our labrador, Onyx down, when we saw two tiny puppies in the road.

One puppy was huddled up on top of the other, shivering and trying to get comfort from the poor little pup underneath that had been hit by a car and was dead.  We gathered up the live puppy and moved the dead one off of the road into the grassy ditch.

We named our little “road kill” puppy Chloe, just because we couldn’t think of anything else, and this is her now.  Mostly grown up.

To pay us back for saving her life and getting rid of the hundreds of fleas and ticks she was infested with, she has made it her personal job to escape the fence every single day and pick up all the litter along side the road and bring it home to us as “gifts”.

I do appreciate the gesture, but honestly, we have enough trash here already.  And the road is dangerous, and she really doesn’t need to temp fate any more than she has already.

So we fixed the fence and made it Chloe-proof.  We hope.  When we put up the fence we were mostly concerned about making it goat-proof, not realizing that Chloe just sees a fence as a minor impediment to her “litter gathering” duties.

She can make herself as flat as a pancake, or as skinny as a toothpick, and get under, through, or around, just about anything.

She really doesn’t like to be in the house for more than a little while.  Besides picking up litter, she has also hired herself out to be Malachi’s personal exerciser, and she takes that job almost as seriously as she does her litter patrol job.

Poor Malachi stays exhausted, but well exercised, all of the time.  His barker still works though, and that’s what keeps the goat-eating preditors away.

The Three Little Bitties…whose mother sleeps in a tree at night

"chicks must be gathered up in the evening to prevent preditors from eating them
There used to be seven, how we have three.

These are the three little chickies that must be gathered up every night as the sun goes down because their mama flies up into a tree, leaving them prey to the foxes and opossums that have begun to prowl the buck shed and old milker shed since we moved the milkers up closer to the house and their guard dog came with them.  I didn’t realize how many species of sharp-toothed wildlife Malachi was keeping at bay at night with his barking and patrolling the fenceline until we moved him out of that area.  Now he and the milking girls have a much bigger pasture but the poor chickens have been left unguarded.

All the chickens are free range, but at one time I kept them locked in a yard with a shed until the baby goats tore up the chicken wire run.  (Chicken wire and goats do NOT mix!)  The chickens still roost near the old shed, but use the trees now and not the shed and I can’t seem to talk them into roosting in the old milker shed at night…which is nearly predator proof.

So, baby chicks have to start fending for themselves just as soon as they are feathered and their mama’s think they should be able to jump up into the trees with them.  It happens with every clutch of chicks without casualties.  Until now.

So, for a while I get gather them up at around 5:30pm, which is when mama hen jumps into a tree, and bring them up to the house for a safe nights sleep.

There Is A Possum In The Hen House!

Last night I was outside feeding the critters just a little after 6pm, which, at this time of year, means I’m feeding in the dark.  I don’t mind feeding in the dark, or even milking then either.  I wear a headlamp and we have a big yard light that lights up the front part of the milkers pasture.  The boys and the horses, however, are completely in the dark.

Down the hill a ways, at the edge of the woods, are the buck shed, the old milker shed, and the shed I would really like the chickens to sleep in at night.  But they prefer the trees.  All except mama hen.  She insists on sleeping with her babies in the buck shed, in a pile of hay in the corner.

I have been watched by a pair of foxes on several occasions while feeding the horses, so for several nights I was picking up mama hen and her chicks and bringing them up to the house at night.  One night I forgot and the next morning mama hen was out with all 7 of her babies, so after that I just left them in the buck shed at night.  I figured the foxes were not really that hungry.

Three nights ago Chloe, our “road kill” puppy was barking frantically on the front porch.  I put on my bathrobe and went to see what she was barking at.  There was a small, shiny, healthy-looking possum behind her dog crate on the porch.  I got a stick and poked it out of there and it ran off.  It must have ran past the sleeping mama chick and her bitties because the next morning there was one less.  But, I didn’t think about the possum.  Until last night.

While I was outside, I heard the chicks suddenly start screeching.  I ran down the hill as fast as I could, yelling all the way, hoping whatever was getting the chicks would drop them and run.  By the time I got down there I had two dead chicks.  That same little slick and shiny possum was sitting in the corner of the buck shed looking at me, with a dead chick in his mouth.

I got a stick and ran him off and went outside to gather up the rest of the chicks.  The three that were left were all huddled together outside near a tree branch laying on the ground and were only too happy to let me gather them up.  Where was mama chicken?  UP IN A TREE!

After I gathered the chicks I noticed Chloe was barking frantically outside the fence. I knew she was barking at the possum so I yelled to her to “kill it”.   As I started up the hill I saw that the possum had decided to play dead and Chloe was pulling on its tail.  I watched it for a minute.  Its mouth was open and I could see a whole lot of really sharp teeth.  It wasn’t very good at playing dead.  It kept twitching, and when Chloe would back off it would open its eyes a little and look around, closing it’s lips over its teeth.  When Chloe would poke it, it would smile again, showing its teeth and close it’s eyes.

I had been hoping Chloe would kill it, but when I saw the size of those teeth and how many there were and how sharp they were, I told her she better leave it alone.

This morning, mama hen was at the front door, sqwaking about her chicks that were inside a hay-filled cat carrier locked in Chloe’s dog crate on the front porch.  I let them out and she immediately ran off with them, not even stopping for the food and water I had put down for her and the chicks.

What an ungrateful hen!  She would have let that possum have every one of her babies if I had not intervened.  I guess chickens really are one of the dumbest animals alive.  And most maddening to me!

Felted Soap!

For some strange reason, I have recently developed a fascination for all things woolen.  Maybe it’s because of these absolutely wonderful wool socks I’m wearing right now, or the pair that I’ve had for years that are all stretched out and funky looking, but still stay up in my boots and are divinely warm and cozy.

Maybe it’s the wool sweater a friend gave me several years ago that you couldn’t destroy if you tried.  It’s light and airy, but not a single wisp of cold air manages to get by those woolen fibers.

I’m thinking it even may have something to do with the buttery-soft cashmere sweater I got for Christmas two years ago.  I have worn that poor brown sweater just about to death, under every piece of outer wear I have, day after winter day….and it still looks bran new, and I have to pry myself out of it to even wash it.  🙂

But, what I really think started this fascination was seeing other vendors at craft fairs this year with their adorable woolen pieces of art.  I did not realize wool could be used to craft so many items.  From the cutest felted animals, hats and wall hangings, to durable sweaters, scarves, mittens, and more.  Well, whatever the cause, I’ve caught the wool crafting bug and just yesterday I received my very first package of wool ROVING in the mail!

"wool roving"
The roving on the left is called “domestic 56”, the darker roving on the right is labeled “New Zealand”.

And to think, two weeks ago I didn’t even know what roving was!

I decided that I’d like my first wool project to be felted soap, and I actually made a bar of felted soap last week using a raw fleece a friend had given me.  I washed it myself and combed some of it out a little but I didn’t realize I needed to card the wool, so my bar was far from beautiful and didn’t felt very well.

"first bar of felted soap"
This is the very first bar of felted soap I made.

The internet is great though.  I did my research and watched several videos of people felting soap, and here is the batch I made yesterday afternoon.  It is dry now and it seems to have worked.  We will use a few of the bars ourselves to make sure the felting does not come undone.

"felted soap"
"felted soap"Variously scented bars of felted soap.

I’ve got my kitchen counter and water pots all set up to do about 20 bars of Love Spell felted soap this morning.  If you’d like to order the lovely roving you see here on my blog, go to Brush Creek Wool Works at Etsy or The New Store .  They have lots of other types of roving, supplies, herbs, spices, sheepskins, etc.  Great, fast service too.

Washing Machine Complaint

I just realized this morning that I have not complained about my new washing machine in quite some time.  And this machine sooooo deserves ample complaint.  I’ve really slacked.  Today, we do not need MORE goods and appliances, we need BETTER QUALITY goods and appliances.  Spending $600 dollars on a machine that leaves clothes looking worse coming out than going in is hardly what I had in mind when I decided to go with this new “High Efficiency” machine.

The machine in question is a Maytag Centennial High Efficiency machine that is two years old and cleans clothes worse than the broken machine it replaced.  The spin cycle is wonderfully quiet and doesn’t shake the house at all.  But that is the only thing good I can say about the machine.  And looking back, we should have returned it right away, instead of me thinking I just didn’t know how to operate it and trying different solutions and cycles and expensive detergents.  It’s out of warranty now, of course.

Here is a pair of pants I pulled out of the washer this morning.  This is normal.  This is everyday.  This is highly annoying!

Meet Matilda and Pork Chop

Just wanted to introduce the newest members of the farm family, Matilda (pink with some black spots) and Pork Chop, (just plain pink).

Matilda has been employed to til the up the garden and dig up roots and junk in the woods so I can make a horse pasture out there.  Pork Chop has been employed to help Matilda out until it’s time for freezer camp.

These are my first pigs since the pig-scramble pig I caught when I was a kid named Penny.  So far they have been friendly and allow me to pet them, but I don’t go in the pen with food…I go in after they’ve been fed and still have plenty left over.  This morning though, I went in to fix the gate to their hog house and they had full bellies but still insisted on following me around and “helping” me fix the gate.  I didn’t have my rubber boots on so that made me just a wee bit nervous thinking they might like a side of leg or foot for desert.

But they didn’t.  They just wanted to make sure I wasn’t hiding a bucket of milk somewhere.

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