Monday, December 26, 2011

A New Year!

We've got one more week of 2011. The quiet space between the busyness of Christmas and next year's projects has me feeling restful and antsy at the same time. I find myself walking in circles, feeling less than motivated, not sure what could be the best use of my time. I guess I'm putting pressure on myself because I want this next year to have purpose. I want our farm to have purpose.

Not that we haven't had purpose already. God has blessed us beyond our imaginations in the last three years. We've learned so much about this land and cooperating with it and the animals. We've made so many wonderful relationships with our customers. I'm so grateful for all of these blessings. But this coming year is beckoning me to explore new ground and think bigger. For one thing, we sent our ewe lambs off to be bred with a friend's ram. As simple as this sounds, it will take us in a whole new direction. Fencing is now Bill's priority project. He's gone from "letting" me keep a few pet lambs to looking at sheep as a future product to sell. This is exciting, yet daunting because we've never raised sheep before.

Another direction I want to move the farm in is to include more art activities here on the land. Our first event will be an open studio/outdoor art day the third Thursday of January. I'm inviting anyone who would like to come out and do art, talk art, eat, take a walk, paint, photograph, whatever, for the day. Bring a lunch, meet the animals, draw or paint a picture. (I'll be happy to offer instruction, but only if you want me to.) We'll be open from 10am to sundown/feeding time.

These are just two ideas for 2012. I'm looking forward with a thankful heart at what God has done here on this 13 acres in Gilchrist County. I also know that direction and inspiration come from our Heavenly Father. You can bet I'll be spending more time seated at His feet in prayer as we approach the next year. I want to hear His Voice with all my heart.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Embracing my studio

I've had a love-hate relationship with my RV studio. The eyesore we call "Bondo Bertha" sits 150ft from our house. It takes me quite a few steps to walk there. Usually when I get there, I've forgotten something or suddenly need to use the bathroom so I have to just turn around and head back to the house. It has LOTS of storage space, cabinets and cubbys. However, even though we had the electricity brought to it, only half the lights and appliances work off that system. The other things like the refrigerator, heater and overhead lights are on a separate system connected to a battery that died long ago. We've found other ways to deal with the broken things, but the lighting has really been a challenge. How do you create art when you can't see?

Recently we positioned our new shed closer to the house in hopes of making it into a sales area for chicken and a brighter studio space for me. The reality of it is that it is yet another project on an ever growing list of farm related, more urgent projects. So....yesterday morning, I realized I'll never paint if I wait on the perfect studio space. There are always excuses and reasons to delay squeezing out the paints. Why do I always put the creative time on hold? I feel so guilty when the housework awaits or the husband and son need clean clothes.

I sat down yesterday and pulled out the paints and finished this little chicken painting. I didn't get frustrated over the limited light, I just added another lamp. I took the phone with me and answered calls from the studio. It really felt good to finish something. Even something small. I didn't try to fix the world around me, I just used what I had available for the day. And it worked. Hopefully, I can keep this attitude. Hopefully I can turn my attention away from what isn't perfect and focus on what I can do with what I have.

So much of our farm runs that way. We've scrounged most of the building materials for all of our equipment. God blesses us time and again with witty ideas of what can be done with a pile of odd things. I'm sure in time I'll have that fancy studio in a more convenient place, but for now. I'm going to join hands with Bondo Bertha and see what we can create together.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Turkey Harvest

Today we harvest the final turkeys for our Thanksgiving sales. After extensive emails, phone calls, and lists of lucky customers, we know who these next 35 turkeys belong too. We just have to get them ready. We've never done this many in one day. It should be an adventure.

This year has been another year of experimentation in the turkey operation. Will we sell them in the summer? Yes! How many can we raise? We maxed out at 150 for the season. Will we put people on a waiting list again? No! Besides our fresh turkey list of pickups, next year we have to come up with a better solution than a wait list. If anyone has any suggestions, I'm listening. Bill had it right when he said we should just offer them for sale first come, first serve. Next year, that's the way it has to go. The only problem is the freezer space it takes each week if they all don't sell. Where do we put the next batch? Maybe another freezer is in our future.

Another thing we learned this season is how hard it is to clean ducks. Again, I had to learn it the hard way. Poor Bill, I keep insisting we can do better with ducks and I order the next batch. Then comes butchering time. No matter how you slice it, it still takes hours to clean just a few. We could have done 50 chickens in the time it took to do 12 ducks. So... I guess I'll leave the ducks to the experts for now.

Something else that we are looking into that I'm really excited about is more sheep. Bill and I have been talking to other farmers about raising sheep for meat. I have been trying to convince Bill for a long time to let me have more lambies. I think I'm addicted. Now it looks like I'll get my wish. All we need is more fencing. Lots more fencing than we have. Hopefully the turkeys will help with the fence projects. I'm going to try to get the two sheep that I already have to be bred for spring. Oh, I can't wait to hold baby lambs!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Foggy Morning

The weather has changed, hasn't it. I laid my cut off shorts out a few nights ago, but haven't had them on yet. The thermometer read 37 on Sunday morning at daylight! We put out two more thermometers beside it because we didn't believe it could be so cold. Out came the wool socks, jeans and sweatshirt. The sheep were skipping and bouncing this morning and playing chase with the dogs. Everyone is enjoying the crispness of the air and a renewed appetite. I'm thrilled because now I don't mind turning on the oven to bake some goodies, now I can make a batch of soap and...did someone say plant something in the garden?

Here at the farm, we're already planning for the holidays ahead. We sent out the email inviting reservations for turkeys and the response has been huge. The weight of the responsibility is intimidating. I'm praying for blessing and safety on each and every turkey out there so they can be a blessing in return.

The painting here was a quick oil study on panel I did last week when the fog filled the yard before the sun climbed over the tree line. I had to work quickly, because the light changed every minute, but sometimes that forces you to make better decisions in the painting process. There's our little tractor, a gift from a customer, awaiting a mower attachment Bill has his heart set on. Maybe by the spring he'll be able to mow down the weeds that make pulling the chicken tractors a challenge. (They have fertilized so well, of course the weeds are happy.)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Not the woman I thought I was.

Okay, so I tried to be the hero. Bill was invited to last weeks Gator game. Of course he had to leave before feeding time, to which I said,"No problem". Then he told me there were visitors coming in an hour, to which I said,"No problem". I really wanted him to take advantage of the opportunity to be with with the guys. Then I realized that our son Micah had truck number two and I would be feeding everything on foot. No problem. I've got this.
Kissed hubby good-bye and started feeding baby chicks first. Our farm visitors came and I had a very willing, six-year-old helper for the evening. Everything was cruising along smoothly until it was time to carry the feed up to the hens. We used the wheel barrow to move three 30lb buckets of feed and laughed about how heavy they were. His six-year-old muscles did the watering, and I thought I was Wonder Woman and hoisted the buckets into the air and over the electric fence. No problem. At least that's what I thought.

The next morning Bill awoke with a smile on his face with visions of touchdowns in his mind, I awoke with a curve in my spine, a stitch in my side, and a hip that felt like it had been hit by a truck. Of course it was Sunday, so I lay on the couch until Monday to tuck my pretzel shaped body into the truck and go to the chiropractor.

He worked me over and said I may be a little stiff for the next day or two. Ha! Stiff didn't begin to describe what felt like a steel hand gripping my bones and twisting my muscles. And the next day happened to be butchering day. Quickly I called a friend with two teenagers familiar with chicken handling and asked them to come catch the batch that was ready. They did a wonderful job and in a half-hour had seventy six portly chickens waiting contentedly in cages by the processing area. The processing day went better than expected, and the next day of packaging was so much better with the help of our friend Theresa. Thank God for Micah. He's done so much extra work to help too.

Here we are on Friday, with another visit to the chiropractor behind me and things are looking up. I have been so humbled by the love and prayers sent my way by all our friends. I am truly blessed. Now I just have to remember that I'm NOT Wonder Woman, even if I want to be. (Even if Bill says so.)

Just found out that they published a pic of me on the cover of the Newberry/Jonesville Magazine today. If you look closely, you can see the silver bracelets Wonder Woman let me borrow for the picture.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Chicken Adventures

The new coop is finally finished. (Thought you would enjoy a picture of the painting I did of it rather than a photo) The nest boxes are in, the perches are up and the door has a latch. Filling it with chickens has not been as easy as we thought. Not all birds go into coma-like states at night, thankfully chickens do. Maybe it's because they can't see well in the dark. Whatever the reason, it give us the advantage after the sun goes down.

Bill and I became chicken ninjas. We dressed in black, grabbed a flashlight and a carrying cage and headed where we knew they would roost. Some were in the old shelter, some were high up in the surrounding trees. Luckily, the moon was nowhere to be seen. Bill shined the light just enough to see body shapes, then I grabbed them one at a time from their perches. They screamed and squawked as I walked them over to the truck. Bill clipped wing feathers hoping that would be enough to keep them from getting over the electric netting.

The ones in the trees were a little trickier. Bill set the ladder under them, I weaved through the branches, reaching for two legs. Both the chicken and I would come down off the ladder with leaves, twigs and feathers flying. For two hours we stole the birds from their roosts and placed a total of 142 inside the new shelter. They squawked some more when we unloaded them and they had to figure out where the rest of the night would be spent and who would roost next to whom.

The next morning, we opened the door. It seemed that there hadn't been any fighting. The two groups of chickens that had fought like crazy were now drinking out of the same waterer. We even opened the door to the older hen's section and they were sharing nicely too. Wow. It looked like the plan worked!

Then, the clever little devils started taking a jump at the electric netting. They flapped and climbed at the same time and about 15 birds got out again. Now they were all the more wary and harder to catch. We've been catching who we can and clipping the other wing. I caught one yesterday that already had two wings clipped. There's little more I can clip that won't require an operation and stitches!

So...we are still hunting eggs in the grass, only the dogs are hunting them too and they've figured out all the good hiding places. Most of the time I find empty shells. The ones inside the new area are giving us about 7 dozen a day, and we can find all of them, so all is not lost. I'm thinking maybe the only way to deal with the rebellious is put on my ninja costume again and keep them in solitary confinement. Maybe they'll be reformed.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Egg Hunt

Those clever chickens! They think they can hide the eggs from us. Well, they're right. We keep finding eggs EVERYWHERE--in the grass, under tarps, in between carrying cages, even under the front steps. No clue as to how old they are either. Bill had the idea of picking up all of the eggs we can find, and then when the hens lay again in the same spots, we will know they are fresh eggs. Great idea except when you pick up all the eggs from one nest, they make another nest somewhere else that you don't find until a week later.

Of course what we really need is to finish the conversion of the rabbit barn into the new deluxe chicken abode. Bill has worked furiously in the heat and the rain to get it done. All that remains is the door. Then we can lock them all up.(Ha Ha)

This new group of chickens has been a challenge from the beginning. We bought 200 chicks in the spring. Then sold some, traded some, added to them with ones we hatched on our own, and ended up with about 150. When it came time to move them out of the brooders, we put them in one of the movable coops we normally use for our broilers. Soon they were crowded and we had to separate them into two groups. One wise chicken farmer once said that when you separate, you can never again combine. Well, he was right. They were suddenly two separate flocks, each with their own pecking order. When it came time to move them into the brand new, shiny movable hotel with the new zappy electric netting around it, they immediately initiated war. The smaller ones ran/flew right though the holes of the electric netting leaving the larger bullies in complete ownership of food and water. The smaller ones took refuge in the trees at night and under the shed in the daytime. Of course we gave them their own set of food and water and hoped Lilly the white dog wonder would keep predators at bay. (We'll never know if there were losses, but we haven't seen any piles of feathers.)

Now, nearing their 5th month, they have surprised us again and begun to lay a earlier than expected. The larger flock has since learned the art of flying over the electric netting so less and less are actually in the space allotted. No, confinement has never been on the minds of these rebellious ones. Since they have begun to make eggs I sense a new attitude in the flock. They are bold, they are brash, they do whatever they want and no one will stop them! I've seen the way they look at me now when I have the feed bucket in hand. I'm just glad they're not more than three pounds.

However, with all this mixing and matching it seems there is less bullying going on. The roosters have begun to crow and grow beautiful tail feathers, the hens are rounding out into fuller, more mature looking specimens. We are hoping that we can put them together again into one flock. They have to go somewhere. They have been climbing into our trucks if we leave the windows down. The plan is to catch them at night, clip their wings, and let them all wake up together in the new house. I sure would like to prove that wise chicken farmer wrong. I guess we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Turkey Independence Day

When we lived in the city, the fourth of July was a night filled with enough booms and crackles and smoke to fill the neighborhood. Even though we lived only five miles from Clearwater Beach where the BIG fireworks go off, that didn't seem to stop everyone on our block from indulging their inner pyro and lighting off their own private display. When our kids were little, we just walked down a few driveways and watched the neighbors set off $100.00 worth. So it didn't bother us at all when our new neighbors in the country decided to have an impressive sky show of their own this year. We just turned up the volume on the tv and enjoyed our movie. However, if we had taken a peek outside we would have seen 42 out of 43 turkeys trample the electric netting, and take off into the night.
The thought did cross my mind during the movie that we should at least check on them. Bill casually said that there couldn't possibly be any danger of predators with all the noise and flashing lights going on. He was right. No coyote, fox, raccoon, bobcat, panther, or armadillo were anywhere near our place. At around 11pm our neighbors had finished and something prompted Bill to grab a flashlight. That's when I learned of the only one remaining turkey in the corral. We quickly passed out flashlights. Thankfully our son and daughter-in-law were with us so we had extra help. We scattered into the darkness criss-crossing our beams of light. Bill and Ben found the first 16 birds bedded down near the clothesline. My heart sank. I didn't think the flock would separate. I hoped we would recover more.
We scattered again and I headed toward the woods. There, in the thick grass and weeds were more birds. When they saw the light, they lifted their heads and started cooing. I quickly counted. Yes. All were there. Now, how does one pick up and move 42turkeys in the dark without scaring them, injuring them, or injuring ourselves? A third of them already weigh close to 20lbs and can kick and flap with more strength than you would expect.
Bill brought the pickup truck in slowly. We turned out all the flashlights except one. Danielle, our daughter-in-law held that one as we slowly moved through the flock. One at a time we loaded about ten into the bed of the truck. Micah, our youngest son climbed in, and he and I held our arms around the birds while Bill drove us back to the turkey net. It took about four trips to get them all back in. Then we realized that Lilly, our new puppy was missing too. She would have been with us "helping". Once again, the flashlight brigade scattered into the darkness calling her name. She had either hidden herself very well, or was missing from the property. I had seen Lilly's stubborn streak before, so I knew there would be no coaxing her out of hiding. I'd have to wait until morning. I went out at dawn the next day and was greeted by her smiling face. Thank God she was okay. She seemed unaffected by the previous nights escapades and started the day with her wagging tail like always. Bill and I breathed a prayer of thanks and a promise to ourselves to be prepared for next year.
Hope your 4th of July was spectacular!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Staying Coooooool

Was last summer this hot? Laughing Chicken Farm has become panting chicken farm in the mid-afternoons. Thankfully, we do cool off at night to a nice, less than 60ish temp. But in the heat of the day I've seen our thermometer read over 100. That being said, we are doing our best to keep everyone comfortable and hydrated. Our well water comes from an underground spring pocket so when I refill the animal waterers in the afternoon, the chickens splash and dunk their heads in it. They love to lounge under the hanging waterer and lay on the damp ground.

Today we moved the first two batches of turkeys out to the TRV (Turkey Roosting Vehicle). One and two at a time, Bill and I carried them by hand across the pasture to the new corral. This all started around 11am when the sun is almost full strength. What were we thinking? Too many trips later, covered in sweat, turkey poo and feathers, we got all 30 into their new shady quarters. Of course they just gawked at us and stood in the sun, but slowly they made their way under the roof and into the shade. The first group of 15 has about a month to go before harvest day, but I think they are over ten pounds already.

Our flock of new layers are doing well, but not blending together as we had hoped. We brooded 25 of them separately two weeks apart, and they have decided to stay segregated. It's like rival gangs. The big girls take over the watering station and hang out by the feeders. They peck the little ones on the heads when they get close so I have to set up different watering and feed troughs. At night, the little girls sneak in and join the flock, but then run out as soon as daylight comes. We had them surrounded by the poultry net, but the little ones could fit through the holes, so now they all are running around free. At least they are getting lots of foraging area. They haven't found the garden yet, thankfully.

Speaking of the garden, I pulled up what I thought were sorry little failed carrots only to find that several had actually gotten big enough to bite. We've never grown carrots before. I haven't tasted them yet so I'm not sure if they were a success or not. The heat has withered and bolted many of the garden's first plantings. I'm thinking I'll save the seeds so I let the mustard, cilantro, and arugula go to flowers. The ducks are sharing the space too so they get to enjoy the plants when they are pulled up. I tossed them green bean plants today. They stay cool with lots of water to dunk in and shade to get under. Most of their quacking is morning and afternoon when the day cools off. These are Giant Pekins. Sure they're beautiful, but dumb as dirt. Chicken Little should have been a duck because they all run around and think the sky is falling! I've already started a small flock of Muscovys. Everyone I've talked to about it says they are much better to manage, and actually get bigger then the Giants. Plus they have the added bonus of hatching out their own babies. Can't wait for that one!

Of all the other animals here, I think Lilly has the best idea for cooling off. Every Tuesday and Wednesday after processing and packing the chickens Bill dumps the ice from the coolers on the ground. Lilly rolls in it, lays on it, eats it and throws it in the air. She makes it look so good, I sometimes want to join her. So I've included a picture of "Lilly on Ice" and hopefully it will make facing the heat easier for all of us.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The birds and the bees

There's never a dull moment on the farm. After getting home from the Melrose paintout, I put my art supplies away, slammed the RV door, and walked a little bit away. Then I noticed a bunch of bees near the front corner. A few bees soon became many, then a swarm started! I called my beekeeping friends and they came over, but by that time, the swarm had entered the sagging framework of my poor dilapidated RV studio. My friends Margie and Sissy (two true farm girls) tried a few tricks with honey hoping to coax them out, but no. The bees had already decided this would make a great place for a hive. I, on the other hand, did not see it that way. Bees were making their way INSIDE the RV and bumping up against the windows. I wanted to cry. I had just been getting all the art juices flowing again at the paintout, only to come home to a studio I couldn't use.

A week has passed. Margie and Sissy came again yesterday with Sissy's husband Steve, and a big, white bee suit. Steve, an engineer by profession, got out a screwdriver and began to disassemble the front of the RV in hopes of getting to the hive without much damage to either the bees or my studio. I stood by (not too close) watching, hoping this would be the answer. The more Steve opened up, the more the RV crumbled. We all agreed the RV would not survive if he dug much deeper, and yes, the bees could be heard buzzing much deeper.

Margie, in her farm woman wisdom, said, "Well, you could always leave them in there and tear it apart in a year and at least you would have the honey."

I thought it over. Maybe. "How much honey could they make?"

Margie assured me it could be hundreds of pounds. The trade off sounded better. Bill also assured me that we could build a new studio. A new studio sounded good.

This morning, at breakfast, as we were drizzling honey on our grits, Bill and I contemplated the future of our honey house. We also realized that last year we didn't see many birds on our property. This year, after a whole winter of moving chickens on the pasture, we have wildflowers coming up all over, we see song birds flitting from tree to tree, and we have a buzzing hive of new residents who must have thought this was a fruitful place to set up a new home.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Oh, Boy can we see where the chickens have been all winter long! Our pasture is so much improved this year. We have grass coming up all over. You can see where the turkeys have grazed, fertilized and cleaned up the blackberries. Our next group of turkeys will be here by the end of the month. You can see where the movable egg-mobile has been too. See all the green behind it? The grass comes up the next morning after I move them!

Our next batch of layer chicks have arrived. We have Rhode Island Reds and Americanas with Barred Rocks still to come. We've ordered extra so if you are looking to pick up a few chickens for your yard, give us a call. In six months they'll be laying more brown and green eggs for the market.

I just had to show how big Lilly is getting. She and Johnny follow us on our daily chores feeding everyone and moving tractors. Anytime we have a chicken that needs a little extra care, we take it out and set it on the ground while we move the others. Lilly usually comes over and licks it's head and sits down beside it. I don't think the chickens like it, but she is very gentle and I'm hoping this is a sign of her future as a livestock guardian. We are still deciding whether or not to get her fixed or wait and breed her when she is two years old. How in the world will I keep all the neighborhood dogs away when she comes into heat? Will I regret it if I get her fixed and she turns out to be an excellent guardian? We already know she is a wonderful dog.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Latest edition

Some of you have been following my art blog about the painting I was working on in exchange for a guardian puppy. Well Here she is! The painting turned out fantastic. Brooke, the owner/breeder was thrilled to see her favorite goat in oil paint. We took a drive to the panhandle and picked up our puppy, Lilly! She loves to greet all the visitors when they arrive. Make sure you come and meet her soon!