Thursday, June 9, 2016

Bees Again!

After two futile attempts at beekeeping we are trying again.  The first two times we bought our bees in a 3 lb. package from an apiary in Georgia through our local bee club.  I’m not saying that there was anything wrong with the bees; it was more likely my inexperience that caused our problems. This time we bought a nuc of bees from a local apiarist, Aaron Burns ( 

This should give us 2 advantages:
1.) The bees are local and adapted to our area.
2.) A nuc is a box that contains 5 frames with the queen and other bees already established. It’s basically a mini hive, which is a head start compared to a 3 lb. package.

Today I checked in on them for the first time since I put them in the hive.  When I opened the hive, I discovered some things I expected and some that I didn’t.

What I expected was lots of bees, brood (bee larvae), honey and pollen – which were all there.

What I didn’t expect was that the bees had drawn comb at the bottom of the frames that came with the nuc.  The frames in the nuc were shorter than our hive body, so they did not reach the whole way to the bottom. 

I was hoping to find the queen but I didn’t.  With all the bees buzzing around, that’s not unusual.  I did find healthy larvae so I’m confident the queen is alive and healthy. 

A queen bee can lay 1,500 to 2,000 eggs per day in the summer. The eggs hatch in 3 weeks. It may sound like we are going to be overrun with bees, but worker bees (the majority of the hive and the ones responsible for collecting pollen) live 4-6 weeks in the summer and up to several months in the winter. So at that rate of laying, the queen is replacing the dying bees and growing the hive.

In 7 to 10 days I will open the hive again to look for the queen, check for the presence of new larvae, inspect for any parasites that may be present like Tracheal Mites or Varroa Mites. If needed, I will either add a super to collect honey or swap with a new one. The time involved is minimal, maybe 30 to 45 min, otherwise I let the bees do what they do.

I bee out!


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Listening, Learning, and Creating a Community

     We've spent a lot of time lately at the farm brainstorming about how we can better serve our fellow crafters. In years past we have participated in the East TN Yarn Crawl, taught beginner knit and crochet classes, as well as knit-alongs. We also host a twice weekly Stitch n' Spin. We consider each of these events to be valuable to our yarn loving community, and we have every intention of continuing them. The question is, what should we do with the rest of our time?! We thought asking you directly would be a great opportunity to find out just what sort of activities you would enjoy participating in.

     We will have a calendar of events available for you at this year's Yarn Crawl. It will contain a list of new classes we are trying out at the farm. These include: a collection of knit/crochet blankets and toys for the Claiborne Animal Shelter, a fiber processing class (from shearing to the final product), a spinning class, a yarn dyeing seminar, as well as a seminar centered around raising Cashmere goats. We will also be conducting our usual events such as the yarn retreat, Christmas in July, and Goat Combing Days.

     That's what we've come up with so far. We're trying our best to further strengthen the bonds of the fiber loving community in our area. Now we would like to open the floor to those folks directly. We would love to hear what you all are interested in learning. Please let us know in the comment section of our blog. We truly appreciate your input!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Goat Husbandry

            When I began working at Mountain Hollow Farm, I had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about goats. I knew they were cute, and that I had almost passed out once in a vet tech class in which one was being operated on. That is as far as my experience went. Here I am roughly seven months later, and I feel pretty adept at caring for these fascinating creatures. Working here has also given me the confidence to delve into buying dairy goats of my own. However, none of this would be possible without hands on experience and a mentor.

            I can attest that there is nothing like doing it yourself. I could’ve read all the books in the world and not gained the sort of knowledge I did by actually being around and caring for the goats on a daily basis. One of the best ways to learn is by getting a goat on the stand. If we have to move all of our goats into a new pasture, it makes sense for us to catch them one at a time and get them up on the stand.
            We start out by weighing them, and checking their eyes according to the FAMACHA scale. Depending on their score, we may or may not worm them using an oral drench. We will check their hooves to see if they need trimming. And if there is any sign of hoof scald, we follow up by cleaning out the hoof and squirting penicillin between the toes. We conclude by checking them for mites and lice. If there is any evidence of either, we treat them with Cylence. Go through this routine enough, and you’ll know a lot about goat health!

            Hands on work is not all there is to it though. We try our best to use a rotational grazing system. Goats are browsers and prefer being in pasture that would be considered overgrown by most. Some people shoot for leaving their pastures fallow for a year. However, most farmers do not have enough land to make that practical. We aim to keep our goats in each pasture between 3 and 4 weeks. Keeping this schedule reduces the goat’s exposure to parasites, and also keeps us from feeding an abundance of hay.

            There are different husbandry techniques for different breeds as well. For instance, we are more diligent about checking our cashmere goats for mites and lice. These little critters damage the cashmere crop by chewing on it. Our dairy goats receive more grain than our cashmeres, due to their high milk production. Each breed has its individual quirks and requirements. If you spend enough time with any of them you’ll eventually get the hang of it, but it helps to have an expert around!

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Duck Patrol

We thought we would continue on introducing you to some of our farm critters that aid us in taking care of the goats. Today we’re going to talk about our favorite waterfowl: ducks! Tis the season for farm stores to carry chicks and ducklings, and we were among those who brought home babies.
            Beth brought home some Khaki Campbell ducklings to add to our current flock about a month ago. They’re doing really well and growing like weeds. It has been surprising to see how long it takes them to feather out. Especially when compared to chicks, that normally start developing feathers within their first week of life.

            The reason we go with the Khaki Campbell variety of duck is due to the fact that they are flightless. This means they can’t get out of the pasture and fly away! And we don’t have to go through the time and labor of clipping their wings. Ducks are great for anyone with pastured animals because they help control the parasite population. They help to reduce our reliance on chemical wormers to control the health of our herd. Plus, they’re cute!

            We currently have a duck hen sitting on a nest of eggs in one of our chicken coops. Last year they were able to hatch them out on their own, but this year some extra precautions were necessary. We do have some ducks that roam outside the pasture, and the neighbors informed us that either coyotes or dogs had been stealing the eggs from their nests! Thus we had to catch that particular bunch of ducks and put them somewhere safe, at least until the ducklings have hatched out and their mama no longer has to stay in one place.

            Another reason we put our roaming ducks in this coop is that the hens just tend to not sit on their eggs if they do not have a secure place to do so. We were frequently finding lone eggs just lying out in the open! Giving them a safe shelter remedied this problem rather quickly. If you love to watch ducks play in the water, or enjoy their quacking, don’t hesitate to bring them onto your farm, for they will truly do their share!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Our Farm Dogs

            There are many iconic images associated with farming: a big red barn, the farmer on his tractor or plowing with a team of horses, green pastures and quiet springs. But one of the most important associations between farming imagery and reality is that of the farm dog. Most people imagine that would be a Border collie type breed. There is no doubt that the Border collie fills an important role on many farms across the countryside. There are, however, a number of different agricultural jobs that our canine friends take on for the sake of their keepers.
            Here at Mountain Hollow Farm we have two working dogs (brothers) named Hans and Franz. They are a cross between an Anatolian Shepherd and Great Pyrenees, both traditional livestock guardian breeds. Hans and Franz are large, weighing 140 pounds each and have an ideal coat length for both the humid summers and cold winters of southern Appalachia.

And now:

            Their size and deep, resounding bark helps to discourage predators from preying on the herd. In this area the most common threat is from coyotes. But with Hans and Franz on duty this is no problem at all. Ironically, they were not brought here originally to protect the goats, but the ducks. Ducks can be used in pastures to control parasites, but not if predators keep getting them! So long as the ducks remain in the pasture, they are safe thanks to the guardian dogs.     
            Hans and Franz are not the only dogs on the farm, however. We also have three resident rescue dogs, all mixed breeds, by the name of Ellie, Fritz, and Daisy. More than anything they fill the role of companion. But it also helps having them nearby when the goat kids are moved into the yard in the spring. Between the barking of dogs and the activity of people coming and going to the house, predators are discouraged.

and Daisy

            Dogs have been a part of the lives of man for thousands of years, first as hunting partners then as companions. It is a treat to come to a farm like this where you can see dogs filling multiple roles. It is an ideal setting for both the physical and mental health of the dogs. Being in a natural setting, and working alongside the people who care for them. We are so lucky to have these wonderful creatures by our side!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Emergency Goat Surgery

It has been a tough 6 weeks here at Mountain Hollow Farm. If you’ve not read my last blog post, you can catch up here. As we were getting ready to take Grover for cremation last Monday, I noticed that one of our pregnant does, Magic, had something funky hanging out of her back end. We took her to the vet to discover she had a herniated uterus and needed emergency surgery. The left lobe of her uterus had “slipped” through a hole in her abdomen wall. The hole was a about 2.5” in diameter. The left lobe of her uterus was 3.5” to 4” in diameter and 7”-8” long. As you can imagine, the vet had a hard time putting it back in place.
Magic, awaiting surgery
Once she returned Magic’s uterus to its proper place, she opened it up to remove the dead kid. To our surprise, there was no kid. It turns out that she had miscarried it and the placenta is what she was passing. Her uterus was swelled from the trauma of the hernia.
Magic, prepped for surgery
After she was stitched back up, we brought Magic home. She seemed to be doing well that evening and on Tuesday. However, on Wednesday, she refused sweet feed. That is like a kid refusing candy. Hoping that it was just an upset stomach from the antibiotic and painkiller we were giving her, I gave her some probiotics. Sadly, a few hours later I found her dead. Our 3rd dead goat in 1.5 weeks.

The next day, I took her to the vet to be cremated (we don’t have a tractor to dig a hole, and I was not even going to try it by hand in our rocky soil). I did not skin her because she had a huge bald spot from being shaved for surgery so I borrowed our vet’s electric shears to harvest her fleece.

The only “good” thing about all this is that this was my first time using electric shears and it was way easier to shear a dead goat than a live one. Those shears are very sharp and it is easy to cut the skin with them.

Honestly, if this was our first year farming, I’d probably be quitting right now. However, we have done it long enough that I know this is not the norm. We have better days ahead. In fact, we will begin kidding next week or the following one. There is not much that can make you smile more than watching a bunch of energetic goat kids. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Winter Farming Challenges

Tyler digging out the gate.
We usually have fun on the farm, but the last couple weeks have been a challenge.
On February 21st, we had a 10” snowfall. Including the storms a couple days before AND after that storm, we had a total accumulation of 16”. Those of you who live in areas that get that much snow regularly aren’t fazed by that thought. However, we don’t get that much snow on a regular basis and it basically cripples the area. The county doesn’t have enough equipment to clear the roads quickly. Fortunately, we have a 4 wheel drive truck, so we were able to get around for the most part. I got the truck stuck twice.

Feeding the animals is difficult in deep snow. Imagine carrying 40 lb hay bales through 16” of snow and ice… It’s not fun. And the subzero temperatures caused the water troughs to freeze, making watering the animals a special kind of difficult. Oh, and we had to climb gates because the snow blocked them shut.

The water rose another 6" before we started moving stuff.
Finally, the temperature warmed up enough to make the snow melt but it also rained. The combination nearly made our creek flood. There was not anything we could do to further protect the animals, but we did move a lot of stuff from the first floor of the barn to the loft. Coincidentally (and thankfully), the creek crested around the same time we were rearranging the barn.
Our neighbors, Tyler & David, helped us move our things to the loft.
Prior to the warm-up, the low temperatures caused pipes in our house to burst and claimed the lives of two of our goats. They both died overnight. Vanili, our angora buckling, died March 3rd. Grover, our oldest buck, died on March 6th.
We'll miss Grover. He was a gentle giant.

If you cry easily or have a weak stomach, you may want to stop reading here. There are things I
NEVER thought I would do before I started farming and the following are definitely some of those things.

Farming is not a high profit venture; therefore, farmers have to use every part of the animal they can just to stay in business. Sadly, that means I’ve had to learn how to skin goats in order to sell their tanned pelts. Needless to say, it is far from my favorite farm chore but I’ve done it twice in the past week.

But it gets more morbid than that… Grover had very large, very impressive horns that I’d like to have on display for our educational school tours. When I took him to the vet to be cremated, I asked if she could remove his head so we could preserve the skull and horns. Guess what… she didn’t even bat an eye. (They occasionally have to send dogs’ heads to the lab to be tested for rabies.) Suffice to say that it was like something out of a horror film. I imagine taxidermists do that sort of thing all the time. (I’m glad I’m not a taxidermist).  

So, home I go with a goat head. Removing the flesh is as simple as hanging the head in the barn so the flies can clean it off. (I know it’s gross – sorry! I hung it in an inconspicuous place.) Now, I’m not going to go into any more details on this blog, but I’d be willing to discuss it when I see you in person if you are curious about any of this.

To top off everything, as we were getting ready to take Grover for cremation, I noticed that one of our pregnant does, Magic, had something funky hanging out of her back end. We took her to the vet to discover she needed emergency surgery. I’ll write more about that in my next post.

I agree with that saying: Do something you love and you’ll never work another day of your life. At least I agree with it 80% of the time… J