Welcome to the High Five Acres blog! We started out by creating a Facebook page to share our fun farming experiences. Looking back through the ‘timeline’ it’s been wondrous to us to see how far we’ve come, as far as cleaning up our farm and doing with it what we want, in the short time we’ve been there (just shy of six months!). So taking it a step further, we put this website/blog together to keep the story going through an online journal. We have A LOT of fun on our farm and through our documentation can relive it and share it. Please read on if you’re interested in following our journey, and feel free to invite others.
Apparently I don’t get enough of tracking credit card receipts and keeping time sheets at work because I do it at home, too. Like a total geek, I have three journals going (farm, crop, and livestock) and since June I’ve been tracking what we do, when, for how long and how much we spend on supplies and equipment. (Thankfully Tim handles the home finances and budgeting; it’s just one of the reasons I love him!)
In hindsight I am so glad I started this process. Without the journals, the only way to quantify the work we’ve done thus far would be to say, “A LOT, and the goats are taller now.” We’ve got pictures and videos, too, but I think they are much more interesting with the stats.
We’ve labored all summer: evenings, weekends and Tim’s Wednesdays off. Starting right after we got settled in the house in June, we got to work with the goal of preparing the yard and farm for our wedding. We knew we’d have plenty of space, just as long as we cleared the brush and overgrown pastures to make it accessible to people and parking. When we moved in, close to half of the property had been left un-managed for a number of years. The pastures were a dense, painful mass of berry brambles and multi-flora rose. The barn was unkempt, too, left full of horse poo and home to a massive population of flies.
Needing a suitable place to put so much old poo, we decided to make one of the existing pastures into a garden. The area is just over one-tenth of an acre and a perfect recipient for regular dumpings of manure and spent hay (we have plans for chickens, beef, pigs, etc in the years to come). As I cleaned barn stalls, Tim mowed clover. Unfortunately the pasture was so hard, full of clover and rocks, we couldn’t just move the manure to the garden, till it and be done. We had it tilled once with a bobcat, we added all the manure from the barn and got some more free pig manure from a guy on Craigslist, then tilled it twice again with a walk-behind. Close to 50 man hours later we had a sizable garden prepped and ready for planting this fall.
Along the way we enlisted the help of some goats to clean up some of another pasture. I had met Kim (affectionately known at our house as the “goat lady”) within the last year at a work function, and she sparked our curiosity and interest in using goats to manage land. We asked her to come take a look at the area we had to clear, and she brought 60 goats along. For three days they stayed with us (just the goats, not Kim), enclosed by a portable electric fence during the day and cozy in our clean barn at night. Two-and-a-half acres of un-navigable area quickly dwindled to one, and we were in love with these animals! We worked alongside them to cut down trees and limbs they couldn’t reach, but that only took a handful of hours on our part. They turned the pasture into the park-like setting we’ve now named the “West Lawn.” Three of the youngest goats stayed with us and now call High Five Acres their permanent home. I’ll tell you more about how they’re doing, later.
As the goats cleaned up the property, we found all sorts of neat stuff. There originally were three pastures on the property, all staked and lined with electric fence. We were able to get the fence free from the brambles and reassemble it to work for our own needs. (That project, getting electric through the fence and then at a voltage that would keep the goats contained was itself time-consuming and fraught with numerous equipment purchases and returns, but in the end we know a heck of a lot more about electricity and how fences work.) We also found a tree stand and two more apple trees (for a total of five!) on the property and got access for the first time to the far-western edge of our property line.
After the wedding I moved into fall planting mode and Tim continued working on the remaining pasture. Most of the greens had died down for the season in what’s left of the un-managed pasture, not leaving enough to warrant enclosing it with portable electric fence and putting the goats out to eat. Tim used the tractor to cut a walking/biking path and that’s how it will rest until spring.
In the garden, I framed out the first three of approximately nine beds. Each bed is 5-feet wide and 65-feet long. We should be able to get A LOT of food out of this garden with beds this size! Our goal is to have plenty for our needs and to sell the rest at farmers markets. I planted garlic in the first bed and part of the second — more 500 cloves, to be exact! Word on the street is that garlic likes cold temperatures, and with enough mulch to cover them during the winter, we should start to see some results in May or June.
I broadcast some rye over the garlic when I planted to add another layer of protection for the bulbs. The rye germinated quickly and covered the garlic bed like a Chia Pet. As it dies down this winter, it will provide another layer of mulch for the garlic. When the rye sprouts again early in the spring it will do the same thing until the garlic is ready to harvest in June or July. The rest of the second bed was planted with rye grass, as well. Next summer we can cut the rye early and feed it to the goats or let it go to seed for chickens.
The third bed is a bit shorter at just 50 feet, but it’s been converted to a low tunnel where I’ve planted spinach, carrots and kohlrabi. There’s about 80 linear feet of each veggie under the low tunnel, and all three showed signs of sprouting after only a couple weeks since being planted. The spinach will hopefully be ready for a first harvest in December. The carrots and kohlrabi hopefully will be up in late winter. I say “hopefully” because I’ve not planted over winter before, so success is yet to be seen.
I said I’d come back to the goats. Tim and I are big fans of critters and, as it turns out, critters are big fans of us too! Woody, Clifford and Norman are very personable goats who love talking (baaaaa!) and come a-runnin’ when they see us approach. Bottle-fed at birth, they resulted in being more people-oriented than a goat that was raised by its mother. They love getting their heads scratched between their horns, and a vigorus scratch on the hips.
Each has his own personality and shows different traits of his particular mixed breed. For instance, although Clifford and Woody are brothers, their Spanish breed is prevalent in Woody but Clifford has more of their French Alpine characteristics. We do monthly weigh-ins and it’s fun to track their progress. Initially we needed to know their weight in oreder to administer the right amount of dewormer and daily balancer (both necessary for growing bucks). Now the 20th of every month is “weigh-in day.” Since they arrived August they’ve each gained 10 pounds and are about 3 inches taller! Until someone mentioned it, I’d totally forgotten that Woody was blond when he arrived, and now he’s dark brown. It’s a good thing we consider these particular three to be “pets” as I can see why raising them for sale would be lucrative. They gain weight quickly, inexpensively and provide desirable milk, meat and hide. I don’t know that we’ll be specialty farmers … just yet.
Along the way we’ve also adopted a couple peacocks. Lil’ Jerry was the first, but he didn’t last long unfortunately. After getting out of the barn, he was had by the coyotes and now may he rest in peace. But, we now have Stanley! He’s safe and warm and staying locked in our barn until spring. Already we’ve deemed him a better fit for us than L.J. Stanley is not shy when people are in the barn and wanders around freely and comfortably. He’s a yearling (that’s 2 in peacock years) and has beautiful tail feathers that he probably won’t show off until he’s a few years older. We’re on the lookout for a peahen companion and maybe, eventually, we’ll have some chicks for sale!
Well, that’s how we got started and catches us up to now. This season is wrapping up and we’re now preparing for spring. We’ve been gifted a used honeybee hive, which needs to be fixed up and positioned before our swarm arrives in April. Also, we’ve caught the aquaponics bug and are in the midst of converting one of our spare barn stalls and building an aquarium and grow beds from 55-gallon barrels. We’ve got our work cut out for us, but by spring we’ll be well into more fun farming adventures!