Back to the land...

This blog is an account of our experiences trying to homestead in Eastern Tennessee. We've bought almost ten acres with power and a well, and a small shed for the well pump. Half the land is already cleared.

This year we haul out 10 tons of trash from an old burned down home. We plant a large garden, and fruit trees, and build a compost bin specifically for humanure. We build a small pad for a gazebo up under the oaks, and begin building our house/barn, with grading, a stone foundation, a concrete stem wall, and the modified post and beam frame. Everything is done by hand. We also dig four thirty foot swales across the top of the clearing and plant the berms with blueberry. A lot of work, and a lot more to go . . .

I'll also cover the process of picking out a piece of land, the negotiation, and "where to begin?" phase, at least how it all went for us.

[YEAR 2] - We build the shell of a 16'x25' two story cabin from scratch . . . check out how it was built.

[YEAR 3] - We try to finish the cabin . . .

[YEAR 4] - I move up permanently to the property to homestead full-time . . .

[YEAR 5] - Rachel and I try to make it as homesteaders . . with a wood cook stove, dairy goats and a cow, finish the barn, expand the garden, fence pastures, plant more fruit trees, build a flock of healthy layers, grow our own animal food - in other words . . . WORK WORK WORK WORK WORK . . .

[YEAR 6]
'Homesteading in Tennessee' is now HOLDOUT FARM. Check out our new farm website. We produce premium quality raw dairy products from our fodder-fed goats, pastured eggs, organic fruits and vegetables, and offer a seasonal list of classes on Permaculture Homesteading.

Sunday, October 28, 2012



It's taken years . . . but we are now an established working farm with a customer base.

After tracking our progress here on the blog over the years, I've nearly maxed out the capacity with all the photos. Our new farm website is under construction.

It's been Indian Summer the last week with temperatures up into the 80's. But heavy cold is coming Saturday morning with wind and rain. I've been working full-time an hour away the last few months to finance big projects here on the farm . . . a metal roof for the barn, an addition on the old coop to turn it in to a goat house for our dairy herd, and more electric fencing for new pastures. Tomorrow is my last day. We're going to try to make a go of it at lasting self-sufficiency.

Our goal here is to produce the finest organic raw dairy products possible. We offer fresh raw goat's milk, raw soft cheeses, butter and sour cream. The key to producing fresh goat's milk that is superior in taste and nutrition to cow's milk is an all-natural diet with no commercial feed, unlimited pasture and browse, hand-milking, and instant chilling of the fresh milk in an ice-water bath in scrupulously clean containers. Our goats are fed only fodder [wheat, oat, and barley grass], sunflower seeds, alfalfa, kelp, organic vegetables from the garden [presently pumpkins], high-quality local clover hay, in addition to acres of lush pasture and browse. Our raw dairy products are available through goat shares.

Dairy goat kids will go up for sale in the spring. We'll have anywhere from 10 to 20 kids and are taking reservations for them now. All of our does are bred to a registered Lamancha buck of show-quality and heavy-milk lines. We have three high-producing gallon-a-day registered Lamancha does - Marley, Cayenne, and Sprite. We also have a Nubian doe [Mabel] that produced 3/4 a gallon a day her first freshening; three Lamancha/Sanaan crosses whose mother Marley is our top-producing registered Lamancha; and Mabel's doeling, Josey, an Alpine/Nubian cross. The price for the doelings will range from $150-$250 depending on the mother and how registerable they are. Bucklings will go for from $75-$200. All of our goats are raised on the same high-quality all-natural raw diet, and are bred for excellent confirmation, the best-tasting milk, as well as high yield, and easy kidding. When Marley first came to us she was terribly thin and ragged and her milk was undrinkable after years on a commercial diet. In only a month we had her weight up, a healthy coat, a consistent 10 pounds of milk a day, and her milk impossible to tell apart from our other does.

We also offer truly free-range chicken eggs that sell for $6 a dozen. They have a wonderful flavor with dark orange yolks. What goes in to these eggs? Raising the birds as day-olds on a raw diet of fodder and sprouted lentils mashed and dried in the sun and mixed with seaweed. Early access to pasture. The security of electric fencing - we never lose a bird. Lush pasture, a clean spacious coop inside the barn, and fresh water harvested from rain off the barn roof. As adults their diet's composed of sprouted grain/fodder, kelp, organic produce, homemade leftovers, and clabbered goat's milk; bugs, weeds, and seeds they forage on their own at pasture; bug pests that I pick off the garden plants and young fruit trees on daily bug walks; and whatever wild food we can harvest to supplement their diet. It's time to gather black walnuts by the trunkload, and the birds love nothing more than to dive in and pick through a pile of freshly shelled and cracked black walnuts.

We sell home-made bread [baked in the wood cookstove in the winter] that can be tailored to any preference with customized ingredients. We have various jams and preserves depending on the summer fruit harvest. Organic produce is available seasonally [though greens are grown throughout the year here in Tennesee using row tunnels]. Right now we have various organic winter squashes that sell for $1.50/pound - mostly heirloom Tennessee sweet potatoes and butternut squash.

Here is a list of classes in permaculture homesteading that we presently offer. Our emphasis here at Holdout Farm is on low-tech, low-cost solutions for sustainable living:

Rainwater Harvesting
Humanure Composting
Graywater Fertigation
Sheet Mulch Organic Gardening
Wild Edible Plants
Water-Bath Canning
Soft Goat Cheese and Butter-Making [using a manual cream separator]
Electric Fencing
Using a Wood Cookstove
Dairy Goat Management
Fodder [sprouting your own low-cost high-yield animal feed]
Free-range Non-commerical-fed Ducks and Poultry
Fleece-to-Yarn Wool Preparation

Classes are $20 per person with no additional charge for family members.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Early Summer

The garden heavily mulched with old dusty horse nettle-filled hay. It'll be a while before the mower's fixed and we can go back to grass clippings.
Planting melons in heavily mulched hills outside the garden. The vines will have plenty of room to spread, and the planting holes will make great future sites for fruit trees. These hills have mostly watermelons and winter squash.
The fodder station. Currently only sprouting winter wheat and oats. Will soon add barley and sunflower seeds to the mix. I'm building a permanent fodder station out in the front of the coop in the barn this week. It'll have three 8' shelves all gently sloping to a drainage bin. The trick will be keeping the guineas out of it.

This is Josey, Mabel's doe. She's about 2 weeks old now. We'd planned on selling or trading her as we've got enough does, but Mabel's milk production at 3/4 of a gallon for a first-freshening Nubian is so extraordinary we've decided to keep her. She's the brightest, most hyper and curious and vocal of all the doelings we've had. And she's taking right away to foraging and browse and garden scraps and eating soaked grain - though she loves her bottles. Once she's bigger we can start integrating her with the rest of the herd.
Our three Sanaan/Lamancha cross bottle babies - Lily, Shadow, and Pinkie, now 2 months old. Lily was disbudded before we got her, and she's on her way to becoming the bottom doe of the three - though she is very affectionate. Lily's on the left and Shadow's on the right. Shadow got her name because as a teeny baby she was always shadow boxing with herself in the corner, doing practice kicks and headbutts. Pinkie got her name simply for her pink collar used to differentiate her and Shadow, as they were identical. Pinkie has rapidly become the top doe among the three, sucks down her bottles in seconds, and has even starting testing the waters with us by rearing and shoving her head against us.

  Mabel and Lily
Marley, a Lamancha, the mother of Pinkie and Shadow, whom we've been babysitting in exchange for keeping the babies. She came to us very thin, is still too thin but doing better - sort of plateaued for the moment. Her milk production has been steadily declining from 5 quarts down to a little under a gallon a day. But the last 2 days we've seen an increase in milk - it's either increased alfalfa in the diet or increased water consumption. Our goats must have absolutely fresh water put out every day or they won't drink it and can become dehydrated. And for a lactating animal that's very bad and will immediately cause a noticeable drop in milk.
A view from the ladder to the upper story. The front corner is now being used for a temporary goat stall for Josey. The area was originally going to be a workshop/dairy station. But I think now it will become a permanent goat stall.
Me putting Mabel out to pasture. She's often a little stubborn to go out but piles of fresh browse cut and thrown out in the pasture have made her more motivated. 
Rachel and I went out taking photos of all the wildflowers on the property - hawksbeard, colicroot, yarrow, wood and sheep sorrel, white and red clover, and some grasses with purple seedheads. The board's for a movable background. I had her get a photo of the sunflower up at the coop though of course it's just come up from all the seed dropped up here when the birds were here. You can barely see the run in the background but it's become a jungle in there. The power of chicken poo.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


We got some rain today, a couple of barrels' worth, which is good because the forecast is for a string of hot sunny 90 degree days. Even the nights will barely get below 70. I'll leave the light off in the chick pen where we're raising 7 Aracaunas so they get used to the dark. Once they're a little bigger they can come out and join the rest of the birds in the coop and free-range outside. We tried it today and they just got mercilessly picked on. Especially by the sexlinks - though even the roosters got in a few jabs.

We've finally got most of the garden planted. The melons and winter squash are being planted in hills outside the garden because the vines take up so much space. The soil is hard and clayey, so we're using the same technique we started for breaking ground for perennials. Remove the sod, break up the subsoil, remove rocks, and line the bottom of the hole with the sod upside down. Then I mix in a good proportion of compost into the soil we plant with, berm the downhill side, and heavily, heavily mulch around the planting hole. The roots have plenty of nutrients in the hole, as they spread they hit the topsoil at the bottom, and the heavy mulch around the perimeter starts to soften the soil and invite worms so the roots can over time penetrate it as well. It's worked very well on late-season bare-root transplants which have a very hard time getting established. If the melons don't grow well at least the planting holes will be well prepared for future fruit trees.

The mower's got a bent crankshaft and will be out a few weeks to be repaired. Without grass clippings for mulch we've gone to the poor-quality horse nettle-filled hay we got 2 round bales of early in the year. A lot of future pasture needs mowed, especially to keep the ragwort down, but it'll have to wait.

Our Nubian goat Mabel has turned out to be an incredible milker. She's a first freshener and milked out nearly 3/4 of a gallon today [right where our dairy cow Rita was before we sold her]. Though we don't really have room for her doeling, Mabel's production is so extraordinary we're going to keep her. Her name is Josey.

We were never able to get the Welsh Harlequin ducks we wanted, so we're hoping to breed the ducks we have. The two hens are Rouens, the drake is an Indian Runner. The Rouens are fabulous layers, a huge egg from each nearly every day. I'd let the eggs pile up in their nest box in the coop hoping one would be inclined to get broody and hatch them out. I gave them a week, then started the tedious business of marking the eggs with pencil and removing them in order on a daily basis. I finally got tired of this, and with the baby goats romping in the coop and likely to bust the eggs, I took them out and put the wooden eggs back in. Almost immediately a duck goes broody. It's not the first time - I think this one just prefers to sit on the wooden eggs. Now neither duck is laying because I guess once one duck goes broody and stops, it's contagious. So I'm slowly removing the wooden eggs so she's got nothing to sit on. Eventually she'll go back to laying. And we'll try again.

We've got several large projects that all need done at once. The big [i.e. expensive] one is a metal roof for the barn. Right now it's just got 30lb roofing felt well overlapped and buttoncapped - which held together perfectly over the winter. But now that we're collecting water off the barn, with the tarpaper it comes out all sudsy like detergent. It's fine for washing clothes but that's about it. With the animals, wash, rinsing fodder, irrigating pasture and garden, the cabin is not providing enough water. We could invest a grand in filtering the    iron out of the wellwater, but that's a hassle, we'll have all that iron backwash, still have to shock the well for iron bacteria, and be left with a very hard water nonetheless. Since the barn must have a roof anyway, it makes more sense to burn the grand there. And it's also an off-grid solution which is always appealing to us here.

Other projects are finishing siding the barn - I've got two sides on the upper story to do. But the guy at the mill says not till next week will he even start cutting the boards. We need to get another pasture up as the goats are taking a toll on 1/2 acre pasture #1, but till we can clear a path for the fence line with the mower we can't even start that. Maybe we'll try to get the weedwhacker working.

The 50" high 7 strand electric fence with foot-high plastic mesh along the bottom is working beautifully. No predators in, no goats or birds out. The charger is a 50 mile 6.3 joule workhorse and keeps a constant 16,000 volts on the line. Haven't tested the shock yet - but the goats won't go near it after 2 shocks. The chickens avoid it, and even the guineas especially on a wet day leave it alone. We've got 5 grounding rods in now and the ground seems as good as it can be with such a large charger.

The cabin also needs sided, but that's more of a fall project. I'll seal the siding on the barn for now, finish planting the curcubits, and order the metal for the barn roof. Then we'll add several barrels at each downspout and our water problems should be over.

Ash-gray blister beetles were nearly wiping out our autumn olives. Then we saw them moving to the goumis and devouring them. Since our late frost killed our fig and mulberries down to the ground through defoliation,  I was worried the same would happen to the goumis and autumn olives. I sprayed both with an 'organic' spray containing spinosad. Within a week all the beetles were gone. They are now putting out new growth. No question it works. Hopefully we won't have to use it in the garden to contain another outbreak. [though we did use a little on the chard that was covered in blister beetles, but it's since been pulled and put in the compost bin].

We're going with low to no bedding through the summer in the goat stalls to keep the flies down. Their stalls are cleaned out daily. Goat manure is a cold fertilizer, so this bedding goes straight out as mulch around the lower blueberries.

There's an interesting Welfare story I'd thought I'd share for anyone living this sort of lifestyle with kids and concerned Social Services might come down hard on what they're doing.

Ever since Patty and I separated, she's done everything in her power to keep me from seeing the kids [Rachael and Brooke]. She also tried to screw me out of the Tennessee property but failed there. The girls have come up a few occasions and stayed a week or two. Usually the outcome is that Brooke refuses to go back to Atlanta and wants to live with me up here. This of course her mother won't allow.

So Patty's latest move was to call Welfare on us, about our sawdust toilets in bedrooms and no running water, etc. The idea was that Welfare would come out and deem the place unsuitable for Rachael and Brooke to visit [we'll brush over the irony of how she was perfectly fine with dropping the girls off with me up here for months in tents - but she was busy then living with another man while we were up here, so not so concerned about the kids].

Well two women from Scott County Social Services showed up about a month ago. They checked out the composting toilets, asked how we get water, bathe, etc. As far as indoor plumbing, one lady said, "People have gotten along thousands of years without it." They were friendly, nonchalant . . . didn't really write much down or take pictures. They said we'd get paperwork in the mail to sign stating that they'd been out.

One of the women came back about 2 weeks ago. We sat down with her at the table to fill out paperwork. She was in a hurry to close out the case because she thought everything we were doing here was cool and she wished her supervisor could have come out because he would have thought the place amazing. She was in a big Suburban and when backing down the driveway ran into one of the stakes around the blueberries and tore off part of her bumper. I didn't notice the bumper till later far down the driveway.

The lady came back last week to get her bumper. We showed her the baby goats and the barn. She loves the barn, was full of enthusiasm for everything we're doing. She said, "This is what everybody should be doing, but who has the freakin' time!"

And that was that. Case closed. Brooke and Rachael still won't be allowed to visit this summer, but at least their mother has only herself to blame as to why.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Onyx delivered a healthy baby doe yesterday afternoon. The people coming to buy her showed up within an hour after she delivered. We didn't hold out for the maximum price on her and her doe, as she had to go, but did double our purchase price. We now have Mable's two bottle babies, the three white bottle babies now a month old, Mable - who's milking out an impressive 1/2 a gallon a day as a Nubian first freshener, and Marley, the loaner doe, who's supplying the babies' milk. Her production has steadily gone down from over 5 quarts to about a gallon a day.

The electric fence is working great and it's a beautiful sight to see all the animals out to pasture - the chicks, hens, roosters, ducks, and goats. We'd tried the rabbit one morning - didn't work out - she spent all day digging out dens in the chicken coop.

We're heavily planting the summer garden now, and having perfect spring weather. The boards will soon arrive to finish siding the barn. The next step is testing the well water and calculating the cost of filtering the iron out - we'll need tons of water for the garden and pool and irrigating the pasture this summer. We may instead invest in a metal roof for the barn, and cheap-as-we-can-go cisterns with a sub-pump to water everything.

Friday, May 11, 2012


Mabel had her babies this afternoon. An easy delivery. One boy and one girl. She also had 3 cups of colostrum for her first milking. She may wind up a good dairy goat.

The first electric fenced pasture is up and working great. Mabel, the bottle babies, the ducks, chickens and occasionally the rabbit all share it.

I put in one last order of siding for the barn, the upper story sides, and that project's finally finished.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


We had a bunny in the garden this morning. It heard me pointing it out to Rachel through the window, and ran out under the chicken wire gate. I'll have to put something across the bottom to keep it from getting in.

Ash-gray blister beetles are devouring the autumn olive foliage on both trees. There are too many to hand-pick. Once they're finished with the trees they'll move on to the garden just like last year. I'll get one of those 'organic' biological sprays and see if that works.

We've had hot summer weather with no rain the last several days. With gutters on the barn now there's no shortage of rainwater in the barrels. But we'll still need to filter the iron out of the well-water to use it for watering the garden and pasture, as well as filling the pool.

I'm still working on siding the upper story of the barn. The front is done, I'm working on finishing the back - then only the sides are left. It goes very slowly.

Our three bottle baby goats are up in the old coop and are still getting bottles 4 times a day. They guzzle their bottles and are growing fast. They're saanan/lamancha mixes - all white. We have two of the babies' mother here and Rachel milks her twice a day. She was giving up to a gallon and a half for a while, but seems to have settled down to 5 quarts a day - which is still great for a goat. The mother is on loan, and we'll probably keep her till the babies are weaned, maybe even up until it's time to breed her.

We've finally got the electric fence up around our first pasture. We had a problem with the corner posts grounding out the fence, but now that that's fixed, the charger puts out almost 16,000 volts, and our voltmeter blinks out at 9.9 thousand volts on the line. So we've got plenty of voltage. Now we just need to improve the ground. Apparently the recommended grounding system of 3 6' rods 12' apart is not enough for our 6.3 joule 50 mile charger. We're going to pick up 2 9' lengths of 3/4" galvanized pipe to add 2 more rods to the system [the pipe will be easier to drive, go deeper, and have a greater surface area for conductivity than the 5/8" rods]. Once we get the ground right the shock should be tremendous - which is what we need to keep in goats and keep out predators.

The sex links are nearly the size of our banty Little Bit so have been released from their pen and are out in the coop with the big birds. They're still very friendly and come right up to me for a treat when I go in the coop. They can be petted and will perch on me. We did have to put 5 of the 6 up on the roost last night. They know how to roost for sure, and can fly okay, but I think are nervous about going up and by big chickens like Rosy and Claudia who are always nasty to them.

The aracaunas are out of the house now and in the old sex links pen. We lost one the other morning and so have 7. They seem to be doing well but are not nearly as friendly as the sex links.

Today is Mabel's last due date to kid. She's shown all the signs for weeks, and is now a barrel on 4 legs. Onyx looks barely pregnant so maybe the woman we bought them from had her dates wrong.

All our potatoes are planted in heavy mulch, we're planting beans between them to see if that strategy really works to foil the Colorado potato and Mexican beetles.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I'd thought the winter would be a time of short days, kicking back, maybe sewing some moccasins . . . but as usual it's been nonstop work day after day. Splitting wood for the stove, planting more fruit trees, managing the garden in the low tunnels, milking the cow, putting out graywater, working with the dairy goats we got a couple months back . . . and the long, long work involved in siding the barn.

Here I'm putting up gutters on the barn - just finished today:

Rita's stall now empty - we sold her 2 weeks ago. She was drying herself off, not bred, AI's cost a fortune, and temperament-wise she was becoming more and more unmanagable. We sold her for $900 - she went quick - sold 2 days after the ad went up.

Brooke and Rachael - up for the week. We got these 700lb round bales of good grass hay just down the street for $25 a piece. A great price:

That's Sascha over with Rachael feeding bunny. She's Rachel's eldest, and was up for the weekend with her baby [in other words we're grandparents]. Sascha's thinking of moving up, but is waiting for the cabin to become babyproof :)

Here is the goat stall in the barn for our two Nubians, Mabel and Onyx, who will kid this month:

The new coop in the barn for the layers:

The chick pen in the coop, right now occupied by our sexlinks. We've got a batch of day-old araucana pullets in a bin behind the wood stove, and 38 eggs in the incubator which will hatch out on Saturday:

The lone survivors of bobcat predation, Rosy, Claudia, Little Bit, and the ducks. We trapped a second bobcat and relocated him, but now have a small possibly bobcat kitten raised from the adults we moved going after the birds - he attacked a rooster but only managed to pluck a ton of feathers and leave the rooster with bare thighs - but the rooster's fine. Only one rouen and Little Bit are currently laying:

Sascha and her baby Jayce in the grass . . .

After a very mild winter, summer hit in March. Everything is either flowering or leafed out. We've abandoned spring planting and are going straight to summer vegetables. I've got mowing and mulching to do, as the grass is coming up furiously, downspouts to put on the gutters, and the upper story siding of the barn as soon as the boards get here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bringing Rita Home

The vet confirmed on Friday that Rita was bred. We were going out of town on Saturday, so Sunday was the earliest we could go pick her up.

Rachel and I worked all Sunday morning into the afternoon on a stall for her in the front right corner of the barn. We decided to do a board stall, with 2x6's around the outer stud walls, and 2x8's in the interior where there's a 12' span to a central post. I put in one treated 4x4 post at the center of each of these 2 long spans to break it up into 6'. I dug down 30" with a post hole digger till I hit hardpan, then centered the 8' post inside and filled the hole with mixed concrete.

Rachel left around 1 or so to go pick up the cow. The friend who'd showed us how to hand-milk was bringing her horse trailer to pick up the cow [we later cleaned out her goat house on a work-exchange].

I worked fast to finish the stall while they went to pick up Rita. The front of the stall has 2x8 boards that slide open and shut and lock with bolts. It took a while to get all this assembled as I was as usual making it up as I went along. I got everything but the blocking done on one of the small inside posts which the boards slide through.

They backed the trailer pretty close up to the barn. Rachel led Rita out of the trailer to her new stall. Rita pitched a small fit pausing and bucking as she was led to the barn, but it was momentary, then Rachel led her in to her stall.

Rachel has years of experience with big animals having had different horses. I've never had any experience with big animals, so Rachel helped me with what to do and not to do around such an animal.

We locked Rita in her new 12' x 12' stall. They say cows can become plaintive and unhappy in a new place and will bawl for hours. Rita only mooed once or twice. The one time I asked her, "So do you like your new home Rita?" she immediately threw her head up and let out a terrific moo - which I guess meant 'HELL NO!' And I think she mooed once more the following morning. But since then, never got a moo out of her.

We used our large galvanized washtub for water for her. We'd gotten a heavy-duty bin for her feed from Tractor Supply which hangs on one of the boards of her stall. Her previous milking schedule was 5:15 in the morning and evening. We milked her at 7 the first night by flashlight - we wanted to move her to a 7 and 7 schedule, she didn't have a lot of milk, and by what we saw at her last place, where they practically dragged her from the pasture into the barn to be milked - she was in no hurry to be milked.

Rachel tied her up with her lead line to the center post and went in to milk her. Rachel had had the best success training to milk on the last cow, so we thought we'd put the best person on the job for milking to keep Rita's production up [milk production usually drops 50% when the cow is moved]. I doled out the feed from outside the stall while Rachel milked.

Rachel first cleaned out her stall with a manure fork. She started grooming Rita with a brush which Rita hated and resisted. Rachel washed her udder and teats with a warm water vinegar solution. Then the milking began.

To give Rachel plenty of time to milk and preoccupy Rita, I doled out the feed one scoop at a time into her feeding bin. Rita fidgeted and kicked at the milk pail with her left foot this first milking [we milked on the left side as that's how Rita was milked before, and cows are obsessed with routine].

The next milking Rita went from kicking at the pail to kicking directly at Rachel. Rachel got kicked once in the shin, and from thereon brought in a long piece of plastic electrical conduit to whack Rita on the hock every time she kicked. The first milking was a series of a few squirts, kicking, Rachel whacking her, then a few squirts again, over and over. Rita kicked like a demon. The whacking seemed to have little effect. After around 30 minutes, Rachel got 3 cups of milk out of her.

Rita's behavior in the evening was the same. The plastic pipe seemed to have no effect on her, so Rachel got an old split wooden rake handle. This Rita seemed to feel, and she began to get the message. She still fidgeted, and kicked, but not quite so freely.

Rita kept knocking the bin around with her head and for a while I'd thought this was the wrong feeder for her - that we'd be better off with a tub on the ground. But we made some changes to everything which improved the situation. We got about a quart in the evening, and a half a gallon a day seemed to be all she had or would give.

From then on we chained Rita up to the back corner of her stall with a heavy-duty chain and clip, allowing only enough head motion for her to eat from her bin. I buried each scoop of her feed in hay in her bin so she had to dig around with her snout for it - buying us more milking time. Rachel 'shooshed' Rita over to get her to line up against the back of the stall - she used the command "Shoosh Rita!" and pushed on her hip to move her back end over to line her up against the wall. If Rita's being stubborn and won't move or takes a step or two then leans back, Rachel takes her broken stick handle and pushes on her hip with this - it tends to be very effective.

We'd gotten a long tough rope for tying up her kicking leg to the other side of the stall. She fought the rope madly at first, kicking and flicking her hoof - she got it off once - but eventually Rachel got the loop positioned just right around her shin and Rita couldn't get it off. Rachel made a loop at one end of the rope, the rest of the rope pulls through it around Rita's leg, and is tied with a saftey slip knot to the post. The loop tightens when she kicks but loosens when she stands still.

Rita now tried to kick, but with her left foot tied there wasn't much she could do. So she tried to kick a little with her right foot, at least across at the milk pail, but these kicks weren't dangerous kick-in-your-head kicks and more of a nuissance. With consistent reprimands for kicking and occasional whacks, the kicking began to lessen to more just fidgeting. And Rita definitely came to respect the stick - just the sight of it usually is enough to get her to calm down and do what she's asked.

When Rita gets restless and fidgety and kicky Rachel milks her with a tin cup and sets the pail off to the side so it doesn't get kicked over. She periodically dumps out the cup. With the cow producing only a quart per milking, the cup works fine.

The feed they had Rita on was a cheap bulk cattle mix at $7 a 50 pound bag - not even the right food for a dairy cow. But it takes time for a cow's rumen to adjust, so we've had to wean her off slowly from it and bit by bit introduce alfalfa and beet pellets, corn and oats. Sometimes she gets leftover cream of wheat from breakfast, or vegetables from the garden. She loves any kind of Brassica leaves.

Rita began to improve behavior-wise . . . to kick less, tolerate grooming, stop shaking her head at us and stomping in her stall. We wanted to try tethering her so she could have some outside time to graze. Rachel attached a heavy-duty chain to the front of the barn - not one of the main posts deep in the ground, but one of the doubled studs only attached to the sill plate with a few screws.
Rachel opened the stall and lead Rita out with her line to the front of the barn and attached her to the chain. The chain is over 20', but Rachel tied it up so Rita would only have half that to start - enough to wander a little and comfortably reach the ground to graze.

Rita bit at the grass nervously a few times. Then she did a few twitchy kicks with her right leg - something I'd see her do later when coyotes howl - it was some kind of nervous tic of hers. Then out of nowhere Rita turned and charged at a dead run to be free.

The chain yanked her back, and she tried again and again. The last time I saw the doubled stud move on the sill plate, as we should have attached the chain to a main post, and we knew that was enough tethering for Rita. Rita even tried to hurry back into her stall once. So Rachel unclipped her and led her back into the stall with some hesitation and stubborness from Rita but eventually she went in.

The whole experience had really terrified Rita, and she was perfectly content once back in her stall. So we decided to not bother with tethering for now.


Rita's almost a completely different cow now a month later. She loves to be groomed, and grunts, and buries her head against me while I'm grooming hoping it will go on forever - and insisting I scratch her head. Her milk production has doubled to a gallon a day - sometimes a hair less depending on how much water she drinks and hay she eats. Rachel has the milking down and milks her out rapidly with both hands in under 15 minutes. The milk cup used for the wild Rita has been basically retired - Rachel milks into the pail and Rita only gets fidgety and a little kicky once she's out of food.

I still don't enter the stall unless she's tied up. She's too unpredictable. Rachel will just to muck out her stall quick or something. Sometimes Rita still has cranky days and shakes her head at us and stomps, but she's become far more managable than in the beginning.

Rachel's Corrections

Rachel had a few corrections to the last post:

The lady said a little under a gallon each milking (as to the confusion). We asked if she meant a gallon and a half a day she replied yes.

The milk machine was not retro fitted with weights. She simply pulled down on it to "open her up" to milk her out faster. She did turn up the vaccum and changed out the claw.

It is a tablespoon of bleach per gallon not teaspoon.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012



Rita was listed as a jersey/guernsey cross at $800. When Rachel called about her, we found out she'd been recently bred to a guernsey bull, was due to calf in July, in milk, 5 years old, halter-trained and able to be led. When Rachel asked how much milk they were getting, the woman said 'a little under a gallon'. We decided to go out and look at her the following day as she was out in Robbins and only 20 minutes away from us. The last cows we'd looked at were dry, so this was at least something. After drinking the raw milk for a while, we really couldn't go back to store-bought, and we definitely wanted a cow that was in milk.

Rachel called for directions the next day. This time the woman said that maybe there was some confusion, but that she was getting up to a gallon and a half at each milking. That's a big difference from 1 to 3 gallons a day. But she seemed very shifty on the phone about it. Low-producing milk cows are apparently hard to sell.

Rita was out grazing with a few other cows on a large flat waterlogged pasture surrounded by electric fencing. She was led in to their unfinished barn and given some grain to occupy her while we looked her over.

She's a beautiful animal, in good condition, but not overly friendly. Her teats were small and close together. Rachel noticed they felt rough and chapped. I felt around her udder, or 'bag', as they call it, and it was very hard for me to believe there was any milk in there at all let alone 1 1/2 gallons. It was either a perfect udder attachment with all the milk up high, or we were being told a story about her production.

Rita's owner seemed frank about everything except the milk. She got tense with long pauses any time we asked about Rita's production. I asked to try some of the milk, and the woman again paused for a long while, looking at us . . . and I started thinking to myself . . . is there even any milk around to taste? Is she racking her brain to think where she can come up with some milk for us? But she did end up saying sure and inviting us inside to try some of Rita's milk. Rachel later thought it might just have been a fear of an inspector or something and all the ridiculous laws surrounding raw milk [in Tennessee it's illegal to sell it, trade it, or even give it away].

Rita's milk had a little guernsey yellow to it and the flavor was okay but not as good as the cow we'd learned to milk on. Rachel thought there was a slight 'off' flavor - this could have been the cheap bulk cattle feed she was on, or maybe the tubing in the milk machine wasn't perfectly clean. Rachel and I walked outside to discuss it for a while. We'd also noticed after Rita'd been led back out to pasture she licked obsessively at the mineral tub - so something was definitely lacking in her diet.

Our biggest concerns were the small chapped teats and questionable milk production. We decided to ask if we could come back at 5 for her evening milking - it would be good to see Rita's routine, and it might clear up some concerns on the milk issue. We also had a couple hours to kill so we drove up to the library in Oneida to research chapped teats to see if it's reversible.

There seemed to be a lot of evidence online that machine-milking can lead to chapped teats. Especially if the vacuum setting is too high. The owner of Rita had always had goats and her machine was for milking goats. She'd had to retrofit it with weights to get it to work for milking Rita. So maybe since goats are easier to milk than cows she turned the vacuum setting way up to get it to work for Rita.

It did seem like the condition was for the most part reversible.

It was dusk when we got back. Rita's owner invited us in and showed us how she makes Rita's udder wash - she put about 1/4 cup of Chlorox bleach in a quart jar, then added water to mostly fill the jar. Rachel has gotten chemical burns from bleach before and thought this proportion for an udder wash was way over the top - Rachel had read you usually do only a teaspoon of bleach to a gallon of water - not a 1/4 cup to a quart. This constant burning with bleach might also be contributing to the chapped teats.

Her husband had to go out and lead Rita in from the pasture for her milking - and Rita threw a small fit jerking her head back to avoid going into the barn to be milked. So she was in no desperate hurry to be milked - again, maybe because there wasn't much. But she did want her grain.

They dumped her grain in front of her, hooked up the milk-machine, and it was all over in less than 10 minutes. We definitely saw milking flowing good through the tubes - so she had milk. I highly doubted 1 1/2 gallons, but maybe half that.

The milking was very sort of 'get it over with'. There was no grooming, little communication - only dunking each teat in the bleach solution. The machine-milking seemed like a cold medical procedure - without the 'hands-on' interaction of hand-milking. It also fit in strangely in the dark half-finished barn with no power and only a flashlight to see with.

Rita didn't kick or fuss, and at the end nosed her owner a little, the husband, so it seemed maybe she might be friendly, but possibly didn't get enough attention. They'd put in some blood-work on Rita to see if she had set, and we told her that as soon as they hear back from the vet that she is indeed bred we'll come out and pay for her and pick her up. We never bothered negotiating over the price - $800 is cheap for a dairy cow.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Never got above freezing today, and there's a 2" thick layer of ice over all the water in our water barrels. We had to bust through it with a hammer. We took hot water from the stove out for the chickens, bunny, and cow so everybody had something to drink. Rita will drink more water if it's warm with a little molasses in it.

Rita kicked a little poo off her hoof into the milk pail at tonight's milking. So it'll go out to the chickens.

The wild guineas are spending the night in our coop again. They may be here to stay. One of our guineas however is spending the night in the oak over the coop - I guess having forgotten the lesson of a night out in the cold with the possibility of a great horned owl swooping by.

Got the french door opening framed on the upper story of the barn. Have 2 more doubled studs to put in, then I can put together a materials list and order the wood for girts to begin siding the building.


Bitter cold yesterday with flurries and 20 mph winds. I barely got anything done construction-wise on the barn. The snow began to stick towards evening and now everything is covered in an icy white crust.

Brooke and Rachael and I went up to shut up the chickens at dark, and Brooke said, "I wonder if the wild guineas will be in the coop." And they were. The dark adults panicked when we came up to shut the doors, one flying towards the main door and ending up roosting above the light. The young ones were all calmly roosting on steps of the ladder. So last night we had 16 guineas. They'll probably go back home tomorrow.

I screwed up a few sheets of OSB to Rita's stall to give her a small windbreak for the night. We also set the stock tank on its side and moved over a cage with hay bales on it to give her an additional windbreak. She was pretty jittery all day. When the chickens wandered into the corner of her stall where she's fed to peck up spilled grain, she lost it and drove them off, thrusting her head under the stall boards to get them. Once she'd succeeded in driving them off, she bucked and ran in a circle in her stall several times, stamping her hooves and snorting. I guess she was making a statement.

Last night's milking was especially brutal with the cold and wind. Rita's milk froze to the outside of the pail.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Rachael took a bunch of photos with her ipod - the quality isn't great, but I'll post them soon.

Everything is so phenomally busy I hardly ever get time to even think about sitting down to post though I know I need to.

Rita gets milked twice a day, is improving slowly, Brooke and Rachael are here, I'm beginning to side the barn, right now getting a materials list together and will probably order wood today or tomorrow.

As far as the tunnels, the next two days of below freezing temps will test how well the plants inside can hold out. For our area, we should be switching to cold frames for the middle of winter, but it has been a pretty mild winter so far, and everything in the tunnels is doing okay. Some losses, like chard, or lettuce not shut up early enough in the night. Some plants are mostly dormant or growing incredibly slowly like spinach and all our seedling crops in beds 8 and 9. If they can just survive the winter they'll make a great early spring crop. Most of the brassicas and especially the mustard greens are doing great in the tunnels.

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.........................The Timeline.........................

-MAY . . . for Patty and I's first date, we skip school and go to the Pinnacle - a wooded overlook off the Susquehanna River.
-SEPTEMBER . . . I leave our hometown of Lancaster, PA for college - Penn State in Reading, 45 minutes away.

-FEBRUARY . . . Patty and I both drop out of school, and camp in some woods behind a grocery store in Lancaster.
-MARCH . . . Patty steals her mother's credit card, and with it we take a train to Utah. We ultimately end up on the Northwest Coast, living in Port Orford, Oregon.
-APRIL - OCTOBER . . . We join a traveling carnival and work in it for 6 months. We sleep in the back of a Ryder truck, and go through California, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. I run the guns, and Patty does the goldfish. We save $9,000.
-NOVEMBER . . . We return to Lancaster and are arrested for stealing the credit card.

-OCTOBER . . . We bike from Lancaster down to Charleston, South Carolina. Patty wrecks in North Carolina, and a friend drives us the rest of the way. We live in Charleston for 2 weeks.

-JULY . . . Our first daughter June is born in Lancaster, PA.

-MARCH . . . We sell everything in our apartment, and hike out of Lancaster with backpacks and our 9 month old daughter. We reach the Susquehanna River.
-APRIL - JUNE . . . We get a canoe and paddle 500 miles up the Susquehanna River to its source. We camp on islands. We get a ride to the Erie Barge Canal and paddle west.
-JULY . . . We are arrested in Little Falls, NY. Our daughter is taken, we're charged with neglect, and we fight the courts for months. We are cleared of all charges, but never get her back.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We take a bus out to Ruidoso, NM and camp in woods just out of town. We return to Lancaster and camp in the Brickyard for the rest of the month.
-OCTOBER - FEBRUARY . . . We live in an apartment in the Amish community of Strasburg, PA. Amish go by in their horse and buggies every day.

-FEBRUARY . . . Our second daughter Rachael is born. We try to deliver her on our own at home and fail. Patty ends up in the hospital with a c-section.
-MARCH . . . We get a ride from a friend down to Covington, Virginia. We stay a week, and look for places to camp in the surrounding national forest. We find nothing, and go to New Mexico.
-MARCH - MAY . . . We camp in the Gila National Forest, north of Pinos Altos, a mile from the nearest trail. We camp above a spring with an infinite view west. We start building a hogan.
-JUNE - SEPTEMBER . . . We live downtown in Santa Fe, NM. Patty markets her paintings, and I get a N.Y. literary agent for my first book 'Flesh Aflame'.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a house in Crescent City, California, on the Northwest Coast, a mile from the ocean, on the edge of a bird sanctuary. It's great until the rains begin and we run out of money.

-JANUARY - FEBRUARY . . . We camp in the Uwharrie mountains of central North Carolina, and look for a place to build a winter home.
-MARCH . . . We get a canoe and paddle the Holston River down towards Knoxville, Tennessee.
-APRIL . . . We get dropped off in the Smokies and paddle Fontana Lake. We stash our canoe at Chambers Creek and hike in to the Smokies for a secret camp. Patty paints the creek, and we stay 3 weeks.
-MAY . . . We live in a trailer just off the ocean in Myrtle Beach, SC. The sky is beautiful after storms and we love the pelicans.
-JUNE . . . We camp in the Brickyard back in Lancaster, PA, saving money for an apartment.
-JULY - DECEMBER . . . We live in Lancaster and save for our trip back out to New Mexico. We also buy the jeep.

-JANUARY - JUNE . . . We camp and travel all over the Southwest, from the Gila, to Organ Pipe, to the Weminuche in Colorado. Brooke is born in February in a motel in Deming, NM.
-JULY . . . We stay in condos with a friend in Aspen, Colorado. I do concrete work. We then go to California, and look for a place to live in the Russian River area.
-AUGUST - OCTOBER . . . We rent a small house in Tesuque, NM, just outside of Santa Fe. We hike up into the Pecos Wilderness. We become vegetarians.
-NOVEMBER . . . We visit a friend in Tucson, AZ, then drive to Crescent City and the Northwest Coast. The beautiful weather is over, and the rains have begun. We don't stay long.
-DECEMBER . . . We return to Pennsylvania, and live out of our car in the Philidelphia area while Patty works at a restaurant. We sleep in parking lots and rest stops. It's the coldest December on record for the area, with the wind chill it's -10.

JANUARY . . . We head south for warmth, try the Chatooga area of South Carolina, then camp in the woods of northern Florida.
FEBRUARY - JUNE . . . We live in Asheville, NC, in the middle of the Southern Appalachains. We spend nearly every day out on the trails, hiking, and learning plants.
JULY . . . We get mountain bikes for touring, and bike the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Smokies.
AUGUST . . . We camp in the Weminuche Wilderness of southwest Colorado, and do a 6 day fast.
SEPTEMBER . . . We stay in Loveland, Colorado with a friend. We climb Long's Peak on the day after 9/11. We then drive to Vermont, and look for a place to live in the Burlington area.
OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a house in Tucson, AZ, and try to become raw fooders.

JANUARY . . . We hike in to Jordan Hot Springs in the Gila.
FEBRUARY . . . We bike in to Turkey Creek Hot Springs. We stash our bikes near the mouth of the creek, and hike the rest of the way. Many of the pools have been ruined from floods.
MARCH . . . We go to Vermont again, this time the Bennington area of southern Vermont. It's way too cold.
APRIL - JULY . . . We rent a house in Asheville, NC again. This time we have a large garden, and become 100% raw fooders. Every day I'm out hiking the trails gathering wild edible plants.
AUGUST . . . We cash out all our credit cards, and move up to Shining Rocks Wilderness in the Southern Appalachians, camping at over 5,000 feet. There are blueberry fields everywhere, and blackberry, and wild cherries. Not only are we mono-raw fooders now, much of our food is wild. I hike barefoot everywhere. We bathe in the pool below the falls.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We visit a friend in Atlanta, and on a night full of alcohol I break my foot in 3 places. I'm told I'll be crippled with arthritis, and ultimately never walk again.
-OCTOBER - DECEMBER . . . We rent a furnished condo in Tucson, AZ. I cut my cast off prematurely with tin snips.

-JANUARY . . . We camp off the Gila River at Box Canyon, just up from the city of Gila. I'm still on crutches. We meet Jabber-Mike, and Vet-Mike, and Doug. We trade juniper berries for Doug's black walnuts. We're still 100% raw fooders, and Doug teaches me the local plants.
-FEBRUARY - MARCH . . . We return to Atlanta for free medical care so I can learn how to walk again. PT is hell.
-APRIL - MAY . . . We go back to the Gila and camp off the Gila River. We gather cattail, nettle, primrose flowers, and harvest prickly pear pads. We find the most perfect hot spring in all of the Gila, man-made, at Brock Canyon.
-JUNE . . . We fall off our raw food diet, and camp up at Black Balsam again off the Shining Rock Wilderness. We gather wild strawberries. We then camp above the Amicalola Falls in north Georgia for 2 weeks. We become committed to the idea of buying land.
-JULY - SEPTEMBER . . . We live in Woodstock, GA, just north of Atlanta. I do a 14 day water fast.
-OCTOBER . . . We paddle Fontana Lake in the Smokies, on our way to Nova Scotia. We find a great camp and gather wild persimmons, but ultimately abandon the trip.
-NOVEMBER . . . We go back to camping off the Gila River at Brock Canyon. I begin 'June'. We run totally out of money, and gather and clean 10lbs of desert willow seed to sell to a local guy in Gila. He gives us $20/lb, and we use the money to get back to Georgia.

-JANUARY . . . We go to north Florida, and check out the sinks, and the aquifer springs, and paddle the Wacissa River.
-FEBRUARY . . . We paddle the Suwanee River in North Florida. Patty makes a basket out of greenbriar.
-MARCH . . . We camp in the pine flats of Apalachicola National Forest. We make baskets from grapevine, cordage from the retting of Spanish Moss, and a mat from palmetto. We camp here for 3 weeks with no money while we wait for our tax refund. We're 100% raw fooders again.
-APRIL . . . We camp off Owl Creek and paddle the river. There are free hot showers in a nearby campground. There's a great trail with wild blueberry, and we gather the new shoots of bracken. We later camp in Tate's Hell.
-MAY . . . We camp at Sand Creek in the Ocala National Forest, an hour east of Atlanta. I gather cattail in the Beaver Pond. I edit and type up the 'June' book at a nearby library for a literary agent.
-JUNE . . . We drive out to Oregon and camp off the Illinois River in the Siskiyous.
-JULY . . . We camp in the Adirondacks off Jones Pond.
-AUGUST . . . We camp in the Jemez Region of northern New Mexico. We gather wild mushrooms, and sell lobster mushrooms to chefs in Sante Fe. We camp at San Antonio Hot Springs for a week, and Big Tesuque Campground outside Sante Fe.
-SEPTEMBER . . . We go back to the Gila and camp at Brock Canyon. We gather desert willow seed again. We swim and play games in the river. We see tarantulas. I gather prickly pear fruit in baskets we've made from willow. We take a trip up to Turkey Creek Hot Springs.
-OCTOBER . . . We camp in the Oconee National Forest southeast of Atlanta, under persimmon trees in a field. We also camp up on Pigeon Mountain near Rocktown.
-NOVEMBER - JANUARY . . . We live in Atlanta.

-FEBRUARY - MARCH . . . We move to Portland Oregon. We paddle the Wilamette River, and go to the nude beach at Sauvie Island, just after Mt. St. Helens erupted.
-APRIL . . . We return to north Florida looking for land to buy. Everywhere is flooded, and there's been a lot of damage from the previous hurricane.
-MAY . . . We camp up on Pigeon Mtn. The weather's perfect, and there's more wild food here than anywhere else.
-JUNE . . . We go to Arizona, and camp in the Hannigan area of Apache National Forest. We ultimately try to get back out to Oregon, but car problems make it not possible.
-JULY . . . We return to Pigeon Mtn in Georgia. The blackberries are in.
-AUGUST . . . We stay in a campground off the ocean in Jacksonville, Florida, while we look for jobs and a place to live.
SEPTEMBER . . . We move back to Atlanta.
OCTOBER . . . We abandon the jeep with 320,000 miles in a motel parking lot.

-MARCH . . . the girls and I camp up at Pigeon Mtn, in a secret camp we've made.
-JUNE . . . the girls and I go back to Pigeon and camp longer, this time starting a wigwam from red maple saplings, muscadine vines, and grass I collect naked in the field with a small knife.
-AUGUST . . . the girls and I camp up at Graveyard Fields off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Every day we gather the wild blueberries and swim in the pool beneath the falls. We hike all the trails, and establish a secret camp in a grove of juneberries.

-FEBRUARY . . . We look at property in north Florida.
-MARCH . . . We look at property in Asheville, NC.
-JUNE . . . We look at the 10 acres in Sunbright, and make an offer.
-AUGUST . . . We close on the Sunbright property, and take the kids to Disneyworld.
-OCTOBER . . . The girls and I camp up on the property in Sunbright, and clean up the trash from the fire. I build a fireplace out of old concrete blocks.

-APRIL - SEPTEMBER . . . The girls and I camp up on the property. We clean out the rest of the trash, build a compost bin for humanure, plant the garden, and fruit trees, I dig the swales, do the stone foundation for the barn, and the stem wall, and the post and beam frame. We build a pad for the gazebo.

-APRIL - JULY . . . The girls and I camp up on the property again. We build the 2 story cabin from scratch, plant another garden, and more fruiting trees and shrubs.
-OCTOBER . . . I put the upper story floor in the barn.
-NOVEMBER . . . The girls and I begin building the barn roof.