We’ve been quite busy over the last three and a half months. I had hoped to blog more but with the country’s response (for good and bad) to the current events, we felt the need to speed up our plans and reprioritize what we were doing. It’s amazing how clear we can become if we’re motivated enough.
Dom and I have always been on the path to being more sustainable and self-reliant. Not in the sense, however, of us being an island unto ourselves and living like hermits somewhere out in the wilderness. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have chosen the area we’re living in as a place to set down roots.
We believe in community and helping where we can. We want to be productive and provide products and services that can help stabilize our local economy. As we’ve watched our nation and the world go through extremes, we’ve seen the impact it has on us personally.
Having taken care of animals and grown our food in the past, it has become crystal clear that we need to get our asses in gear now. I believe that hyperinflation is inching closer and that things are about to get extremely ugly (they are already ugly) with regards to food security. One thing is appallingly clear…we are NOT prepared!
I hate to sound like a cliche, but I thought we would have more time. We knew this was going to happen. Well, not that there would be a lockdown and all our rights being taken over 38,000 deaths in the United States, but we knew there was going to be a great shaking. It’s one of the reasons we began growing food and caring for animals in the first place.
It feels surreal to watch everything unfold in the world. Worse yet, we are feeling somewhat powerless, marginalized, and unable to help those who are suffering in any meaningful way.
Our goals were to start getting animals and have a little extra to sell. To have a few large gardens and have some produce to sell. But in this season of change, I’m setting my sights much larger.
It’ll start with the chickens…
Originally we planned on having about 75 chickens which would include Brahmas and Croad Langshans as our meat birds, and Cream Legars, Welsummers, Marans, Faverolles, and a few other egg layers. But I’ve chosen to increase the number to between 175-200 birds. The area we’ve been preparing for them is large enough to handle such a large number of birds.
I will also start a breeding program for each kind of bird. I’ll be crossing the Brahma and Langshans eventually to create a new table meat bird.
Our birds will be raised on organic feed and have one of the most important jobs on the farm…making compost for us. No one can turn a compost pile faster and with more efficiency than a mob of chickens.
This system of animal production will be intensive and highly productive. Each section will be multifaceted. For example, the chicken composting yard will have fruit trees, meat rabbit housing (yellow rectangle) and under the meat rabbits will be worm bins. Behind the rabbit row will be an enclosed area for berry bushes.
The fenced-in chicken composting yard will also have an enclosed turkey run with more berry bushes on three sides, and a round turkey coop (green circle). Why a round turkey coop? Because turkeys LOVE round things. They are fascinated by round objects and love round spaces. At least that’s what we’ve observed in keeping turkeys in the past.
There will be an area for ducks. We won’t have as many ducks as we do chickens, but we’ll have at least 30 for egg production as well as meat. Even though I really wanted to get Dutch Hookbills for this area, we have so much land that I decided that I’ll have them in another area. In the duck area we’ll be adding Cayugas, Silver Apple Yards, Pekins, and a few geese.
In the market garden, there is an overlap between the duck area and the garden. This overlap is because of where the large trees are. We won’t be removing the trees. Instead, the duck housing will be on the market garden side. There is an old large water trough that was for cattle. It will be turned into their pond. A spigot will be added to it, and the duck poop water will be used to water the market garden.
The market garden…
Currently, we have rows dug. They can be seen in the plot below. We don’t have the greatest water pressure coming from our well, and in order to save water, we decided to completely rework the market garden.
We’ll be creating inground wicking beds. The wicking beds will allow us to drain the duck pond water directly under each garden row. Think of it like bottom watering your plants. Freshwater will be used once a week to topwater, but the duck pond water is the real workhorse, nourishing all the plants and fruit trees that will be planted there.
Around the perimeter of the market garden we’ll be adding tall posts and electric to keep out the deer.
Last year we started building our little chicken composting run in the market garden. It’s the little green rectangle. This is intended to be our Silkie chicken nursery. Silkies are good mothers and will happily hatch out eggs. They can also be bullied by other chickens, so they get their very own area. We won’t have more than 10 Silkies. They’ll also be making compost in their area.
The outdoor kitchen and meat processing area (turquoise square)…
Last year we had an overgrown HUGE patch of wild grapevines. I cleared it out and burned the area so that they wouldn’t grow back. We have so many wild grapes on the property, that it wasn’t a big sacrifice. Now that the patch is gone, we can build our outdoor kitchen. We will harvest our small animals in the outdoor kitchen. It will also serve as the farm kitchen when we start holding events.
I told you we were busy! Haha
As our plans continue to morph, I will be tucking things into each system. Two things that aren’t on the plans are the post-harvest washing station and the greenhouse. The post-harvest station will be located on the north side of the market garden. In the upper right-hand corner above the market garden is where our tents used to be. That will be the location of our greenhouse.
Everything will be in close proximity to each other. This creates fewer steps. At the center of everything is the water supply. Farms should be run efficiently with as few steps as needed. We’ve worked on farms that weren’t planned out very well. Water that would need to be hauled great distances, needing to walk 10 minutes to a field way out in the middle of nowhere to harvest lettuce, only to turn around and walk another 10 minutes in the opposite direction to collect eggs and yet another 20 minutes to go feed pigs. This is extremely time-consuming. Our systems will not be done that way. There’s no need for it.
To the right of the market garden is the entrance to the pasture. We will be keeping dairy sheep and horses there. More on that another day!
Here are some photos of things that were accomplished from the end of January until this week:
Our little teeny tiny bathroom is nearing completion. Pallet walls are an ingenious way to rooms but if they aren’t sealed up with walls and insulation, animals feel free to make themselves at home in our spaces. That is a big fat NOPE! The walls were finished with drywall and an opening for windows was put in. We found the windows under one of the rigs on the property. They were partially buried in the dirt. I cleaned them up, painted, and reglazed them.
The toilet and bathtub were installed, and we got the cutest little antique Italian Florentine chest of drawers to convert into a sink. We need to purchase a wall-mounted faucet and hopefully, in the next few weeks, the sink will be functional.
We still have shelves, a mirror, and a few other things to add, but it is looking great! It feels glorious to take a long hot bath too.
I love watching him work and get creative. I love how he makes our lives so much better every day!
My girl continues to grow into this stunningly beautiful young woman. She turns 13 next month.
Some cedars and pine were taken out of the chicken compost yard. When completely cleared of dead or dying trees (we had both in that area) fruit trees will be added. The straight branches that were still in good condition will be used to build the chicken coop.
Our supply area is filling up fast. The pallets will be used to build a storage shed for all our things that are currently being stored in the roastery. We have many projects going on all at once. Behind the pallets are a LOT of glass panels. Those are for the greenhouse.
This is the next section of the chicken yard that needs to be cleared. This whole area is one large tree that fell but never died. It is connected at the root by about two feet of tree. It must have fallen at least 5 years ago but refused to die. This is the area where the large chicken coop will go.
We have two entrances to our property. One is on Mineral Creek seen in the photo above, and the other is on a back road when the creek is flowing.
This year we had so much rain that we couldn’t get across. The creek cuts into the banks creating a steep drop off. We need to have heavy equipment come in to fix this each year. What we really need is a bridge!
Once the water subsides the creek bed is a hot mess! We had it leveled on Friday and we can finally cross again.
Much better! There’s only a small amount of water flowing now, and within the next few months, it should be dried up completely until next winter.
The other project I’m currently working on is updating and changing our website. Firelight Farm will still have the blog, but it will be a magazine-style layout and include lots of different sections. Instead of having one blog where I write everything, there will be categories like animal shelters, animal husbandry, growing a garden, building structures, how to lacto-ferment, and more. We want our website to be more informative. I also want to start producing videos again. We started to a few years back, but when we sold our last farm, there was no reason to continue making videos.
My aim is to have the new site launched by the end of May. It’s pretty exciting and it’s all coming together.
This truly is the season of change!
It has been six weeks since we moved here, and it has been six weeks of being betrayed. Betrayal is a nasty word and one that is only fitting for our situation. Our lives have been filled with joy, happiness, inspiration, and wonder. Simmi is acclimating to life in our semi-wild location. Dom has been busy with work. Sara has been working around the land and taking care of the horses.
And me? Betrayed by my own body. My autoimmune problems have gone away, but in its place comes my clumsy ways where I bang into walls, trip over small sticks, bang my head on corners of cabinets, lose my balance standing on the first step of a ladder, and cramp my hands up so bad that I can barely pick up an ax or hammer without it slipping through my fingers.
It all started when Simmi destroyed the zippers (both sets!) on her tent. The first set is on the outside of the tent, and the second set is on the screen. You see, she LOVES to make a small opening in the tent, and then dive in. There is no time to unzip the tent properly because what’s the fun in that?! No, this child wants to dive through the smallest opening possible. I kept telling her not to do that because she’ll damage the tent, but she didn’t believe me.
And then it happened. Both zippers broke. It’s not like we can take the tent down and just run it through my sewing machine to repair it. I have to sew it all by hand. The key word is hand. I had zippers from the extra tent we have, so I removed them and started sewing. It took four hours to get the first set of zippers properly attached. My hands were so cramped it was difficult to type or do any work. It took nearly a week for my hands to start working properly. Once they were somewhat recovered, I had to get the second set of zippers put on because a storm was coming.
Six more hours of sewing the outer zipper. This zipper was more of a challenge because of the thickness of the canvas. After I finished the second set, I could barely move my hands. I was betrayed by my own body. But I did it to myself. I pushed through and destroyed myself.
Six weeks of being betrayed.
My hands are finally getting back to normal. I still have problems with fine motor skills and typing is somewhat of a problem, but I can use my ax again without fear of it slipping out of my hand and cutting open my head or leg, or anyone standing in close proximity. Being accident prone is something I’ve always had to contend with, but when hands are so cramped they can’t do what they’re told, it makes my issues with banging into things and falling even worse.
It’s kind of like when you bang your toe on something and then all the sudden you keep banging it in that same area. When I fall because I tripped over a small twig or leaves (yes, I’ve tripped over a leaf last week) and my hands aren’t working properly, my fall is even worse because I can’t catch myself.
Beyond my quirky accident-prone ways, things are going great here. Here are some photos of the goings on around here…
Dom built a temporary teepee greenhouse. The poles were taken from trees the horses stripped.
We originally wanted to use our leftover plastic furniture wrap. It kept snagging and ripping so we ended up using some plastic we had laying around.
I sewed fabric straps to anchor onto the outside. Dom will need to attach them where I can’t reach. The straps keep the plastic from moving and provides a way for me to string up the outside and inside of the teepee to prevent the plastic from moving too much in the wind.
We added a door lined with chicken wire to prevent the chickens from getting in. They have been conspiring all week to get in and eat my little sprouts. We’ll be adding bricks to the front since it gets pretty muddy at the entrance.
The door was made from branches and attached with some old cabinet hinges we had. Making this little greenhouse was fun and it didn’t cost any money to make.
The seedlings have been enjoying their new home. We currently have artichokes coming up in the aquaponic system and next week they’ll be moved to the greenhouse.
I’ve had this cutie pie with the most adorable little freckles helping to move the seedlings into the greenhouse.
See what I mean? As I was stripping the bark off the poles, the chickens were plotting the great seedling heist. A few of them managed to get in there and I had to chase them out.
My girl has the best laugh.
She loves playing cards with her dad. She likes to trash talk while playing. It’s hilarious. When I hear Dom and Simmi playing, and she’ll say to Dom as she wins, “Eat it old man!”
I love him.
We started building the chicken compost run. It’s made from wood that was laying on the property, screwed together and lashed with jute. The side walls will have welded wire attached, and chicken wire will line the top. We have a nice stinky pile of compost under that tarp. On the right side is where the horses are (they’ll be moved soon to the pasture full time), when they are out of the area I’ll be putting tomatoes on that side. Tomatoes can handle compost so it will be a good set up and it will shade the compost pile and the chickens towards the end of the day. We’ll also be adding honeysuckle and trumpet vine to the chicken run to shade the girls all summer. They’ll also attract many pollinators for the garden.
At the close of Sunday evening a few weeks ago, Dom was frustrated, hot, bothered, and ready to be done. We pushed through the dehydration and cramping hands during mid-day in the hot sun because we needed to get the chicken run covered with chicken wire to protect the posts from the horses. Yet, even with a torn meniscus and working on the uneven ground all dehydrated and weather-worn, the end of the day scowl was the only thing showing his pain. I feel fortunate to have such an amazing person to walk through this life with. When he came home from work he apologized to me for the way he handled the day. I was unsure why he needed to apologize. He said, “I love that we get to work together, but I know I could have made the whole day more fun for both of us. Instead, I barreled through and made everything a chore.” What he doesn’t understand is that every moment I spend with him is heaven, and the fact that he would apologize and want to make it even better rocks my world.
We have wild grape vines setting their fruit. We’ll be cutting back most of the vines in this area and grafting different types of table grapes to them. We’ll be putting up a pergola for Farm to Table events and the new grapes will grace the pergola.
I got my hands on the last pot of Spanish lavender. I’ll be taking cuttings to make a lot of lavender that will grow down the driveway and in the potager garden and well, everywhere else. I love lavender!
Scored some rhubarb and I’ll be planting it next week.
When the Benadryl hits hard, goofy faces happen.
Sara is loading horse manure onto each of the market garden beds. Soon we’ll dig the pathways and form the beds.
Hopefully, in the next few weeks, my hands will be fully recovered. In the meantime, I’ll be busy creating new plants from cuttings, planting more seeds, continuing to work on the market garden, and working on the business hub. Now that I can type again, I can also start writing more blog posts!
Oh, and in two months we’ll be welcoming some ducklings! I’m so excited about that. We’ll be driving to Arizona to pick up Dutch Hookbill Ducklings. I haven’t decided how many we’ll purchase, yet. This month I’ll be ordering the pond liner and getting the duck area ready. It’ll take a month to get all the rocks moved into their pond.
Pictured above is a Dutch Hookbill Duck. We’ll be getting our ducklings from someone who is preserving this breed in Arizona. She’s an excellent photographer as well!
Here’s what the Livestock Conservancy says about the Dutch Hookbill:
This unique and very old Dutch breed of duck is thought to have originated in the Netherlands between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the province of Noord-Holland. As the name implies, the breed is characterized by its downward curving beak, setting it apart from other duck breeds. It is believed that this trait was particularly useful to duck breeders in making it easier for hunters to distinguish Hookbills from wild ducks that inhabited the same areas as the domesticated birds. In Holland these ducks were managed in the waterways and canals of the countryside and they were expected to forage for most of their own food. Today they are still among the best foragers of domestic ducks.
According to the Dutch Association of Breeders of Domesticated Waterfowl (Nederlandse Vereniging van fokkers van gedomesticeerd watervogels) the Hookbill duck and the Noord-Holland White Breasted duck (also known as the Witborst duck) had similar genealogies. Their exact origin has never been determined but it is speculated that the breeds developed from early importations of Indian Runners. This idea is supported by J. Bonenkamp in the magazine Avicultura (8/1990) where he accounts of finding pure Hookbill ducks among groups of ducks in East India.
The unique appearance of the Hookbill made them desirable as ornamental birds but early on the Hookbill was known for being excellent layers of eggs. That combined with their remarkable foraging capability made the breed widely popular on Dutch farms. In Holland, in the 18th century ducks were provided a place to nest and feed while they were brooding, then ducks and ducklings were all sent out to the surrounding wetlands to forage for their own food and received no further supplemental food. The wings of the ducklings were clipped to make them easier to catch later. By mid-August the birds were gathered and sent to market in Purmerend, where they were purchased by duck keepers who would use them for egg production. The birds kept for breeding were selected to be sturdy and disease resistant, self-sufficient, adaptable to new circumstances, and efficient layers needing less food than other breeds in order to be productive.
The Dutch Hookbill breed declined in the 20th century due to a diminished market for duck eggs and the effect of increasingly polluted waterways that served as their home. By 1980 the Hookbill was nearly extinct, but through a Dutch effort led by Hans van de Zaan, the last 15 birds were collected and used to start a conservation breeding program in the Netherlands.
Dave Holderread was among the first to import the Dutch Hookbill into the United States in 2000. He found that there were three bill types in the population: extreme curve, moderate curve, and straight. In his book Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks (2011), Holderread outlines that the most effective breeding strategy was to cross birds with moderately curved beaks to each other or an extremely curved beaked bird with a straight beaked bird as the best breeding options. He found that crosses between birds with extreme curved beaks had poor egg fertility. There are still very few primary breeding flocks of Dutch Hookbills in the United States.
Dutch Hookbill ducks have excellent flight capability, especially younger individuals. The birds reach sexual maturity very quickly by around 16 weeks of age. Healthy ducks can be expected to lay anywhere from 100 – 225+ eggs per year. They come in three primary color variations: dusky, white, and white-bibbed dusky. Other colors exist but not in great numbers here in the US. The Hookbill is a remarkable breed that deserves a second look as a viable and efficient egg producer for small scale farming.