Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Future of the Dirty Goat Farm

Things have been moving along here, although I haven’t really put too much information out as to what is happening.  Actually, in some ways it is happening very fast, and in other ways it is just totally dragging along.  We have been thinking and planning and discussing plans for our farm until my brain hurts. 

First, the house that was in the original plan fell through.  The guy started playing games and so we backed out.  Or I should say, my father in law, Ryan, backed out.  By the time we found out that it was not going to work out, Keith’s parents had already developed a backup plan and put it into action.  So, they gave us some dimensions, told us to design the inside, and started to work building us a house.  Have I mentioned how awesome I think they are???!!!  I mean, who does that!  But they did, and they are…  and they have made really awesome progress on it so far. 

We were not really sure until a few days ago how much was going to be able to get done this winter, because apparently in Minnesota the ground freezes (this southern girl just said “yowza!”), and certain things had to be dug and built and installed before progress could really be made on the house.  Like the well and the septic system.  I guess it has been a somewhat of a mild winter so far (correct me if I am wrong), and has only snowed a few times.  Snow, in October…  who would have thought.  Anyways, all those things that had to get done before the ground froze…  are getting finished.  That is awesome. 

We are planning on leaving here the end of the year right after Christmas.  I am going to have to hold myself back from packing after Christmas morning methinks.  “Hey, kids!  Do you love your presents?  Now let’s throw them all into these boxes until further notice!”  I can’t see that going over too well.  But I am quite anxious.  Things have to finish up here before we can move there.  Keith is still in school, but this semester will end by the 12th of December. 

The baby is due(ish) on the 17th of December.  I am hoping to go into labor just even a few days early.  With the last one that was born, it took me longer to recover than it had before that.  I suppose having a hernia is the reason, and since I still have the hernia…  I am still expecting to take a good two weeks for things to settle down.  Before the hernia, I had no problem with recovery, but that has made things a bit more challenging.  So, even a few days will make a big difference by then. 

I have tried to prepare a baby for extreme weather climate as best as I can.  I have been making all kinds of blankets, and stocking up on warm things.  In fact, I have been stocking up on warm things for everyone.  No one ever needed those things called longjohns before.  One thing I did was make sure everyone had an excessively warm coat, hat, boots.  I am currently working on knitting everyone hats and scarves.  I got flannel sheets for everyone’s beds, and made sure that I got myself a pair of insulated bibs for working on the farm.  I was told I will appreciate those. 

The house is going to be awesome.  We have a budget that we are working really hard at sticking to.  The goal for us is to be totally debt free sometime in the near future, so keeping the budget low is something that will benefit us later.  There are things that we are passing on in the house to help make that possible.  And there are other things that there just is no way to take a shortcut on, but from what I understand…  it is not wise to take shortcuts on a house in northern Minnesota.  We will appreciate a well built house in such winter weather. 

The house ended up having 7 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.  I know, I know!  Seven bedrooms!  That seems like so many!  But in reality…  we are already a family of 8 people.  That number could get bigger, you never know.  We are open to more children…  maybe not necessarily biological children, but we are open to possibilities.  One of the rooms is going to be especially reserved for school since we homeschool.  That is exciting!  No more school work on the dining room table!  And another room is just going to be strictly for play.  All the bedrooms share community closets.  That is what I call them.  There are two bedrooms to each closet, but the closet itself is pretty big.  There is room to sleep at least three kids to each bedroom, so the bigger closets were necessary. 

My new laundry room (and this is what I am MOST excited about), has space for two washers and two dryers.  Maybe even three each depending on the type of washers and dryers they are.  My single washer and dryer right now just cannot live up to the task of dirty clothes.  The laundry room will have a door going straight outside where the clotheslines will be.  Unfortunately, I am not sure I will be able to use them as much as I would like during times like winter, but they will still be there for when I can.  Out that door also, we are planning on taking our raised herb beds (at Autumn’s insistence) and rebuilding them there, only with more because there will be more space.  

So for the farm…  this is one of those points in time where my head just feels dull like I have been using it too much in too short a time frame.  I have been putting a lot of thought in this today, and I am pretty sure I have talked to everybody and their brother that deals with agriculture and livestock in Minnesota lately.  Keith and I mapped out the land and have been trying to come up with a definitive plan (well, as much as it can get at this point in time) with what we want to do with it.  This is what we know for certain.

Large garden to include pumpkin patch, corn fields, grains, and all the other normal veggies.
Small apple orchard
Rotational pasture
Dairy goats
Poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks, a couple of geese)
Honey bees
BIG RED BARN (emphasis on the excitement there)

From some things that I have read, I have come to a very firm conclusion that for us to be successful with this, we need to do a number of things…  not just focus on one or two. 

The biggest challenge I have seen so far, is finding the right varieties for the fruits, veggies, and grains that we want to grow that will be successful in that climate.  Bemidji, Minnesota is only a USDA zone 3a…  There is no zone 2 in the United States.  That is as cold as it gets and still be American outside of Alaska. 

However, there are still possibilities… just not as many as I have dealt with in the past.  Almost anything grows in the south.  Almost.  Almost nothing grows in the north…  crazy yankees.  Just kidding, it is just a balancing act.  It is taking a lot of unlearning with everything I thought I knew.  I am still working on a master plan for the produce and grains since there is actually more thought that has to go into that than there is with raising livestock. 

With apples though, that is about all I know for certain right now.  I can grow HoneyCrisp apples and Chestnut Crabapples.  The Chestnut Crabapples are self-pollinating, but the HoneyCrisp are not.  They need at least one or two other varieties to grow apples.  So that is what I am going to grow.  It will take at least three years once the trees are planted to get the first fruit, but once that starts happening…  holy cows.  Have you ever seen an apple tree in fruit???  Sounds like an opportunity to open up our farm and let people in to come and pick apples.  

I REALLY wanted to do cherry trees, too.  But I have come to the conclusion that unless I find some piece of information that seems to be eluding me right now...  cherry trees are just not possible in such a cold climate.  Southern Minnesota...  yes.  Northern Minnesota?  No. That is disappointing.

Minnesota does not have the parasite problem like the South does.  In South Carolina, it just does not get cold enough to kill very many things off and the warm part of the year is longer so that things can thrive longer.  Not good for livestock.  In Minnesota, we won’t have that problem to the degree like we do here.  But there are ways to manage it.  We want to make several paddocks so that we can rotate the livestock.  That will help manage the herd and keep their bodies more healthy, plus it will give each of the pasture areas time to recover once they have been chewed on for a time. 

Speaking of livestock…  we have moved in a positive direction with that already.  We found a farm that has sheep that will have some available in June which will give us enough time to set up the pastures.  We are putting a deposit on three female Polypay lambs and a Great Pyrenees that we hope to get all at the same time.  That should be about the time that we pick our goats up and bring them back up to Minnesota.  I have been in contact with a farm that will have Nubian doelings and does available this spring after kidding, so hopefully that will work out.  I am hoping to get a Nubian buck about that same time, too.  We have looked into another breed also, and there is a farm that has them available not TOO far away.  We are looking into Toggenburg goats, too.  They tend to have a higher milk production and are a very old breed of goat that does very well in cold temperatures.  I am thinking to have what we need for our family and then a bit extra to make things like cheese and soaps and stuff, I will need 8 goats in milk at the same time.  My family literally drinks seven gallons of milk a week.  Seven.  So, a herd of about 10 to 12 does is probably ideal that way in case a few need to be dried off, it doesn’t stop our milk supply completely.  That will take us several years to achieve though.  Having a buck of our own will help that along nicely.  Maybe a Nubian buck and a Toggenburg buck.  We will see.

The Polypay sheep are good sheep for several reasons.  They are excellent foragers.  They also tend to lamb more than one at a time and are known for twins, triplets, or more.  They can also lamb twice a year, but will have better wool if they only lamb once a year.  They are also very self-sufficient and rarely need help lambing, unless there are tangled babies.  Then that seems to me to be a good time to step in and help out.  I plan to do with them what sheep are used for!  For wool!  And then the plan is to learn how to spin it, then weave it.  That sounds like fun to me.  You know, like on an old fashioned spinning wheel and stuff.  

I have a list of poultry that I want to start with.  I have a hard time not overdoing it with the birds.  We hope to get pullets as soon as it is warm enough to do so, or as soon as we have a place to keep them warm enough.  Fifty hens and three roosters should be enough for us and then have plenty left over to sell at the Farmers’ Market there in town.  The chickens will also serve a dual purpose for meat, which is why we are getting a few roosters.  I want the chickens to make babies so that I don’t have to buy more babies.  That would be counterproductive.  The chickens that I have narrowed it down to are: Barred Plymouth Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Australorps, and Golden Comets.  I also want to get a smaller flock of Ameraucaunas with a couple of roosters to get our own blue, green, and pink eggs…  because that is fun.  And I like fun.  Besides, they are really good chickens.  All the other chickens will lay brown eggs…  but you knew that.  The plan is to allow them to free range as much as possible. 

Other birds will include ducks.  We have really liked our ducks in the past, and duck meat is very good plus duck eggs are really good to bake with.  The ducks we plan on getting are WelshHarlequin and Khaki Campbell.  I think they are very pretty.  I also talked Keith into a few geese with only a couple of dirty looks when I mentioned geese.  He does not particularly want geese (but then again, he did not really want ducks last time either and in the end it worked out).  Geese can be good watch dogs, and the kind I am looking into (Toulouse Goose, pronounced too-loose goose) originated in France and are known for their friendliness.  Eh, it will grow on him.  Everything else has. 

Last, but not least, TURKEYS!  I am probably most excited about these.  Fresh turkey meat.  Yummy, yummy.  I am hoping to raise these and in the end make a profit off of them.  The kind I would like are called Bourbon Reds.  They are beautiful birds! 

As far as honey bees go…  we know we would like to start these, but my brain needs to have more time to recuperate before I can really start figuring out the logistics of the matter.  The one thing I do have figured out though, is that they will live in the apple orchard so that we can promote pollination and give the bees plenty of things to have access to. 

And my big red barn.  Actually, any barn will do…  I am SO not picky.  That’s like saying I need a green tractor.  I don’t need a GREEN tractor per say, as much as I just need a tractor.  Or have access to one.  Just. Not. Picky.  But my dreams always include a barn…  and well, there it is. 

This will take several years before we are fully functional.  I was originally thinking three, but now with more reading and research…  I am thinking closer to five.  The goal is not only be totally self-sufficient, but have steady adequate income to the point that all we do is work the land.  It is totally possible on 6 acres. 

I am currently looking into small farm loans to get things off the ground, but ultimately the goal is to be debt free and profitable.  A little money borrowed may be okay, but if it takes us longer to get established because we did not borrow money, then so be it.  I would rather not be indebted to anyone to get this done.  I want to be able to keep the profits from the farm. 

Long term goals also include energy independence.  That may be an extremely long term goal, but a goal nonetheless. 

So, that is it!  Does your brain hurt?  My brain hurts.  So much to think about!  But in the end, all this planning and researching and learning and preparing will work out for us.  A plan is a good thing, even if it sends me into brain failure three nights a week.  

Current books I am reading on the matter that I would recommend to others thinking about the same things...

You Can Farm by Joel Salatin
Storey's Guide to Raising Sheep
Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats
The Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman

10 Things I will miss about Columbia, South Carolina-
  1. My friends, of course
  2. My church, and the sermons that the pastor preaches
  3. The early Spring for planting
  4. The downtown Richland County Library
  5. The Once Upon a Child used kids clothes store
  6. The availability and options of growing things
  7. The longer then 60 days a year warmer weather
  8. Charleston
  9. All the Farmers' Markets
  10. Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens

10 Things I will NOT miss about Columbia, South Carolina-

  1. All the crazy drivers...  need I say more?
  2. The hot, humid, and super sticky summers
  3. Hearing Keith complain about the hot, humid, and super sticky summers
  4. Not being able to wear all my awesome sweaters
  5. The Palmetto bugs
  6. The mosquitoes
  7. The too much city-city
  8. The terrible crime rate
  9. The people that didn't get the Southern Hospitality memo
  10. Living so close to neighbors


  1. Well now, my head hurts too! :) I could "see" it with you. I do love Honeycrisp apples! I will miss you when you leave; however, I am really happy for you!

  2. Just a quick note on fruit trees. There are quite a lot of apples that can grow here (at least if they are grafted on hardy rootstock) Dad probably has at laest 15 varieties. However Chestnut craps which you mentioned are my very favorite for just plain eating off the tree. They are so yummy!

    Cherries are possible to grow here - not the big, sweet fresh eating ones unfortunately but nice pie cherries or cherries to make sauces, jam/jelly and such with. I have cherry trees (I don't remember the variety) as well as Nanking cherry bushes.

    I want the read the book by Joel Salatin but haven't yet. YOu enjoyed it?