Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Five days ago, I wrote the following note to include in our Christmas cards:

In mid-November I thought I was in good shape for Christmas this year. I had the hardest part of the holiday almost done – deciding what to buy for everyone on my list. I knew I was going to do the Black Friday craziness with my mom and sisters so I’d buy most of the gifts then. Life was good.

Life is still good, but here it is 6 days till Christmas and I’m finally getting around to sending Christmas cards. The shopping is done but none of the gifts are wrapped. The tree is up but it is not decorated yet, and neither is the house. So 6 days and there is still a lot to do. Where did the time go???

Here it is now, Christmas Eve, and somehow everything that needed to get done is done. Our tree has lights and candy canes on it but no ornaments and our house is not decorated, but we are all OK with that. The shopping is done, gifts are wrapped, cards are sent and the cookies baked.

Today, after the animals are fed, we will clean house, do laundry, pick up a few groceries, and go to the Christmas Eve service at our church. Not a glamorous Christmas Eve, but not a crazy-stressed-out one either - and for that, I am thankful.

I am also thankful for Jesus, whose birth we celebrate tomorrow. We like all the secular festivities of Christmas, but we don't want to lose sight of the real reason for celebrating Christmas. Take a few minutes to read the Christmas story. It is found in the Bible in the book of Luke, 2nd chapter. To read it online, click here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Making Paddocks, Part 2

I am very excited that our new pasture is almost ready for the goats. We hired professionals to do the boundary fence and watering system and we did the interior fencing today. Now we just have to hook up the energizer and clean up some leftover fencing materials. If all goes well, we'll get the goats moved in later this week.

The hardest part will be moving the goats. That pasture is about a quarter mile from where they are now so we'll probably load them into the livestock trailer to haul them down there.
I'm sure it will be easier than loading the pigs. That was a fiasco! You wouldn't believe how hard it is to get a pig into a trailer. After many failed attempts, including chasing pigs down our road and falling in the poopy end of the pig pen, we finally left the trailer set up with their food in it overnight so if they wanted to eat they had to go into the trailer. It worked and we just closed the door behind them. Why didn't we think of that first?!? But I digress...

We now have 4 paddocks in the pasture so we will be able to rotate the does in 2 paddocks and the bucks in the other 2, and still have an empty paddock between them at all times. That's a good thing since we don't want any accidental breedings. We should really have about 3 times as many paddocks, but the pasture is not big enough. We have plans to add more pastures.

I am a little nervous about having the goats so far away from the house, but we have a neighbor whose house overlooks the pasture and I'm sure he will let us know if there is any trouble. Not only that, we installed a 4' high 4" wire mesh boundary fence that has barbed wire underneath it and 3 strands of electric offset to the inside. Our fencing contractors thought I was a little crazy to put in such an expensive fence but at least I won't be up at night worrying about our goats. Besides, if it prevents even one coyote attack it will have been worth it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Making Paddocks, Part 1

Farming in the rain is not fun. Though if you have good rain gear and can connect with your inner child, it's not too bad. It has been raining a lot here lately but today it is sunny and we are going to install semi-permanent fencing in our new pasture to divide it into paddocks to facilitate rotational grazing.

Rotational grazing is used to maximize food production and minimize parasite problems. Basically, you do a multivariable calculation involving the number of goats (or other livestock) you have, the size of the pasture, how long it takes the grass to grow, and the life cycle of parasites to determine the size of the paddocks, how many you need, and how long the animals should remain in each paddock before moving to the next. Ahhh... the simple life; who knew I'd be able to put my math degree to such good use as a farmer!

If we were living in a perfect world, I would calculate all that and have a perfect pasture with perfect animals and a perfect life. But we don't live in a perfect world and the reality is that our herd has grown faster than our pastures. So, we are going to use the less scientific method and wing it. Since we are using semi-permanent fencing for the paddocks, it will be easy to adjust them as we fence in more pasture area.

Tomorrow I’ll post the results with photos.

(Side note: if you are looking for a farm, it is a REALLY, REALLY good idea to purchase one with good fencing or expect to spend a ton of money installing it.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rabbit Food Everywhere

This is what a 50 lb bag of rabbit food looks like when it is dumped on the floor. Not pretty! Apparently the bag had a tear in it and when Brett slung it over his shoulder it ripped apart.

Brett was a really good sports about cleaning it up (and me and Ryan laughing at him). He used a dust pan as a shovel and Ryan helped to vacuumed up the stray pieces. I took pictures and snickered ;o)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cumberland Fall Festival

I was invited to demonstrate spinning at the Cumberland Fall Festival last weekend. They also let us set up a booth about our farm. It was the perfect opportunity to publicize our farm and upcoming knitting, spinning and crochet lessons. We took a cashmere goat kid and Angora rabbit.

It was a lot of work and some very long days but we had a great time. People were more interested in the animals than in spinning, especially the Angora rabbit. I think I could have sold 10 of them if I'd have had them. I'll be more prepared next year!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Join us for classes to learn how to knit, crochet or spin, or to improve upon your existing skills. For more information, to request a specific class, or to schedule private lessons, contact Beth at (423) 869-8927 or

Stitch & Spin
Saturdays 10 am – Noon
Tuesdays 6 pm – 8 pm
Bring your current knitting, crochet or spinning project to stitch or spin as you make new friends in an inviting community of yarn lovers. Relax, be inspired by other participants, and enjoy great conversation! Sessions are free and open to everyone. No reservations required.

Block of the Month Club
First Tuesday of each month 6 pm – 8 pm
Complete a beautiful knit or crochet afghan one block at a time. Two blocks for each afghan will be offered each month. You decide whether to do one or two blocks per month. Just buy the pattern book and yarn and knit or crochet along with us. Join any month. Participants must have basic knitting or crochet skills.

Beginner Knitting Series
Thursdays, February 10th & 24th
6 pm – 8 pm
$60, includes 2 classes, tools & materials
Make a felted purse while learning the basics of knitting, including how to cast on, knit, purl, bind off, felt, and read a simple pattern. When you are finished with this class, you will have the skills and confidence you need to begin a new project.

Beginner Crochet Series
Thursdays, February 17th & March 3rd
6 pm – 8 pm
$60, includes 2 classes, tools & materials
Make a felted purse while learning the basics of crochet, including the chain stitch, single crochet, double crochet, felting and simple pattern reading. You’ll walk away from this class with the confidence you need to begin a new project.

Knitting Cables
Thursday, March 10th
6 – 8 pm
$15, includes the class & pattern. You will also need yarn, cable needle, & appropriate size knitting needles.
If you’ve admired cabled garments but you’ve been intimidated to try them, this class is for you! You’ll get the hang of cables while knitting a beautiful cabled scarf – and you’ll be surprised how easy it is. Participants must know how to knit & purl prior to attending this class.

Crochet Hats
Thursday, March 17th
6-8 pm
$15, includes the class & pattern. You will also need yarn & the appropriate size hook.
Crochet hats are very popular right now. This is a great class to learn how to crochet in the round. Participants must know how to chain, single crochet and double crochet prior to attending this class.

Knit Hats
Thursday, March 24th
6 – 8 pm
$15, includes the class & pattern. You will also need yarn, circular needle, & a blunt yarn needle.
Knit hats are fun and fashionable. You will learn the Magic Loop method of knitting in the round. Participants must know how to knit and purl prior to attending this class.

Private Lessons
Individual lessons and customized classes are available to anyone who wants to polish their skills at knitting, crocheting, or spinning. Contact us to make arrangements.

Basic Supplies
Students should bring these items to every class:

Class Registration & Policies
Beginner classes normally have 3-6 students. Advanced classes may be larger.

Please register in advance. Classes that do not meet the minimum enrollment requirements 3 days before the first class may be rescheduled.

If homework is required for class, please complete it prior to class. Contact us if you need help.

Please purchase class materials at Mountain Hollow Farm.

No refund or credit will be given for cancellations or no-shows on the day of the class.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cumberland Fall Festival

I am excited to tell you that I've been invited to demonstrate spinning at the Cumberland Fall Festival in Middlesboro, KY this weekend, October 2-4. My booth is going to be in the "big tent" with the other demonstrators. We'll have a goat kid or 2 and an angora rabbit available for petting and I will be giving introductory lessons for knitting, crochet and spinning.

For more information about the festival, visit

Please stop by and say hi. I'd love to see you.

Friday, September 18, 2009

My Favorite Cleaner Gone Awry

Yesterday when I needed to clean the chicken nest boxes, I decided to use my favorite cleaning solution: a bucket of hot water with dish detergent and bleach. The dish detergent cuts the grease and grime and the bleach kills all the nasties.

Instead of lugging a bucket of hot water from the house out to the coop, I decided to use the hose, so I mixed up some concentrated bleach and dish detergent in an old squirt bottle. That was a mistake! The bleach caused the dish detergent to foam up, right out of the top of the bottle. And the bottle got hot. Hmmmm…. It would have been a cool science experiment if it didn’t stink so badly.

Apparently, Palmolive has ammonia in it. Upon further inspection, I discovered that there is fine print (which I can barely see) on the back of the bottle stating “Do not use with chlorine bleach to avoid irritating fumes”. I guess when you mix them in a big bucket of water, they are diluted enough to avoid this reaction. Still, I think I’ll look for another dish detergent that would be safer to use.

I hate to switch from Palmolive; it really is “soft on hands”. In fact, I often use it to wash my hands because it leaves my skin softer than most soaps – even the expensive ones. If I can find a dish detergent that’ll work, I’ll use it for cleaning but Palmolive will always be my kitchen sink dish detergent.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Woo-Hoo & Cock-A-Doodle-Doo!

Our chickens started laying eggs. So, this morning I put aside my carefully planned to-do list and cleaned the nest boxes. I fed these 4 eggs to the dogs since I wasn't sure they were laid today. The dogs loved them!

We have 10 hens – and, unlike last year, we know they are all hens. Therefore, we will have more eggs than we can use. If you’d like to buy delicious farm-fresh brown eggs, let me know. We will sell them for $2 per dozen.

I ate grocery store eggs my whole life until last year. I was pleasantly surprised at how much better farm-fresh eggs looked and tasted. So, if you prefer grocery store eggs, I won’t hold it against you – especially if you give me your empty cartons. However, for you locals who have never tried fresh eggs and would like to, I'll give you 1/2 dozen for free. Just tell me you read it on my blog.

To read about last year's chicken experience and how we made sure to get all hens this year, click here.

This photo is of the back end of the chicken coop (or poultry palace). The drop-down door gives us easy access to the nest boxes. We hung the solar light there but it doesn't give much light, which is OK since we don't usually visit the coop at night. For a side view of the coop, click here.

Wow, writing this post is making me hungry. I can't wait till morning. Hopefully we'll have some eggs to fry!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Save the Puppies

Someone abandoned 4 adorable puppies in our pasture. We already have 5 dogs, of which 3 were similarly abandoned, so we can't keep them. We need your help to find them good homes. If we don't find homes for them by Monday, we will take them to the Bell County Animal Shelter where they will face near certain death.

Please forward this to everyone you know. Use email, facebook , twitter, blogs - any method you can. If we spread the message to enough people, we can find them good homes. Paste the link to this page into your message:
The puppies are very friendly and well-behaved. They look like a german shepherd mix, so they will be medium to large sized. They have short hair.
I really don't want to take them to the shelter. Please help! If you'd like to adopt one of these puppies, contact us at (423) 869-8927 or

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Show Season

I've just sent 4 cashmere fleeces off to the Eastern Cashmere Association Cashmere Goat Show. The show is in Richmond, VA the end of September. It is an interesting event. The fleeces are submitted in 2 gallon ziploc bags. When they are judged, they are taken out of the bag and the judge examines the fleece for the characteristics listed below.

As you read this consider that in order to be considered cashmere, the goat's down has to be less than 18.5 microns. A micron is one millionth of a meter or one thousandth of a millimeter. It is really small so the judge has to have an exceptionally well-trained eye to judge cashmere. That is also why cashmere is so soft. Wool is itchy because the fibers are thicker, and consequently stiffer, so they jag the skin. Cashmere is so fine that it bends rather than jag.

Cashmere fleeces are judged on:

Fiber diameter is defined as Mean Fiber Diameter (MFD). Fiber must be fine, with a histogram MFD of 18.5 microns or less.

Style is defined as the crimp or curvature of the individual fibers, and is represented on the histogram as deg/mm (degrees of circular arc per mm). Individual fibers should exhibit three dimensional, irregular crimp along their entire length. Mean style measurements on the histogram should be no less than 45 deg/mm.

Fiber length is measured in its relaxed (crimpy) state, and must be no less than 1.25 inches (32 mm).

Fiber diameter should exhibit minimal variation in a given sample or “swatch,” and transitional fibers should not be present. Uniformity is represented on the histogram as Coefficient of Variation (CV) and must be no greater than 24%.

Guard hair should be coarse enough to be easily differentiated from down fibers.

Total Down Weight (TDW)
The total amount of cashmere down that is obtained from the fleece of a single goat. Represented as Total Down Weight (TDW), it is measured after cleaning and processing, and should be no less than 2 ounces (60 grams).

For the complete North American Cashmere Goat Breed Standard, visit

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Old Store

We have an old country store next to our house. It was THE store to go to many years ago but has since fallen into disrepair. When we bought the property, it was just a shell and the rock pillars that formed the foundation were sinking.

We had contractors rip off an addition that was falling down, shore up the foundation, put on a new roof, install stairs, a wall, electric and lights. We refinished the original wood floor and painted the interior. The back part of the store will be a wood turning shop for Brett and the front part will be a store and fiber studio where I can do my spinning, knitting and other fiber-related crafts.

I was hoping to open our store on September 1st, but that didn’t happen. It is all fixed up and I’ve moved all my knitting and spinning stuff in. I’d been praying about what to do because I’ve been very stressed out lately. I had been putting so much effort into getting the store done that I was neglecting other things that needed to be done around the farm.

Last week, I finally got an answer… Wait. I sense that God is saying, “Why are you rushing this? The store will open and it will be great; just not yet”. I hate waiting! So that fact that I am at peace with this means it has to be a “God thing”.

In the meantime, it is going to be a fiber studio. It is wonderful to have the space to set up my spinning and knitting equipment and not be tripping over it all the time! I can’t wait to get caught up on the chores I was neglecting so I can spend more time knitting and spinning.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Summer Recap

Since I’ve not blogged in a while, this is a highlight of what’s been going on here at Mountain Hollow Farm.

Between kidding and new acquisitions, we are up to 31 goats. We have several adorable bucklings for sale.

Last month we had a roof put on over our deck. It was either put a roof on the deck or build/buy dog houses for our 5 dogs. We decided on the roof since we could enjoy it too. We reused the tin from the roof we replaced on the old store and lumber left over from the fence we built so we didn’t have to buy a lot of materials.

I didn't have time to clean up the deck before I took this photo. Oh well, this blog is about real farm life, and this is as real as it gets. I wish I could keep it clean but it just doesn't happen!

Then we hired our neighbor, Charlie, to power wash our house, and he brought his whole family. Emily and the kids helped with lots of odd jobs like sanding some old planters, cleaning up piles of wood scraps, weeding, cleaning up the store, and scrubbing deck furniture. Jobs are always more fun when you do them with friends. We could not have accomplished half as much as we did without their help. It was an exhausting but productive week.

We took a little break from all the work to join Brett’s family in Ocean City, MD for a week. We left the beach a couple days early to visit my family in PA. It was a great vacation.

After vacation, we spent most of our “free” time working on the store. We finally finished the interior. More on that in a future post.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Farm Fix-It Day

Today started out as a “fix-it” day. I fixed the goat feeder and their shelter. Then during a break, I got sidetracked on the computer. When I was ready to go back outside, it was raining. So the water trough, chair, mineral trough, and goat stand repairs will have to wait.

That’s OK… We have plenty of inside work to do. I think I’ll go paint the bedroom wall that’s been bare for about a year now.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Here Kitty, Kitty

We don’t have trash pickup in our area so we have “convenience centers” located around the county. Each convenience center has a bunch of dumpsters and recycling containers where county residents can unload their trash for free. It is more convenient than going to the landfill and cheaper than trash pickup, but I hate loading trash into the back of our van.

On a recent trip to the convenience center, Ryan and I found an adorable stray kitten so, of course, we brought her home. Brett – being the sensible one when it comes to stray animals – was not thrilled about it when we told him on the phone but he warmed up to her when he met her in person.

She’s content to sit in our laps but she’s also got spunk. She might be a curtain climber. Fortunately she hasn’t discovered them yet but she scales our baby gate without a problem. Here right eye looks a little funky because we're treating her for pink eye.

Oh, and we named her Kitty. Bbbbbbbbbbbbb’;’vfr (That is kitty-speak for “I like to walk on the keyboard”.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

More Cashmere Goats

Ryan and I drove to the North Carolina coast on Friday to pick up 9 cashmere goats. We weren't planning to expand our herd, but these goats became available and the price was right.

We wanted to leave around 5 PM on Saturday for the 9 hour drive home. We didn't want to travel during the hottest part of the day. Travelling is stressful for goats even without them roasting to death in a trailer.

One of the 3 pregnant does had another idea. She had a kid about 4 PM so we delayed our departure until 9 PM to give her time to rest and bond with her kid before we moved them. We arrived home at 6 AM Sunday morning. Ryan promptly went to bed but I ate breakfast and unloaded the goats. Then I took a 4 hour nap.

This afternoon one of the other does surprised us with twin girls. We thought that all the does were due in July or August. Moms and kids are doing fine. I'm ready for another nap!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Look What We Found

The goats that are temporarily residing in our yard ruined our well cover. That’s not a big deal since it was an eye-sore anyhow. The previous homeowner put an old dog house over the well and filled it with insulation. We are going to replace it with a fake rock.

As we were cleaning it up, we found a bees' nest in the insulation. I’d call them bumble bees, but I’m not a bee expert. All I know is that they were big! I’ve never seen a bees' nest like this before so I thought it was blog-worthy.

In the foreground of the photo, the nest is undisturbed. The top of the nest it is broken open so you can see the larvae. Lying to the left of the nest is an adult bee. It looks completely black but I think it had a bit of yellow that is hidden at this camera angle.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Farm Truck

I've been busy this week trying to find a farm truck. I was hoping to find one for about $2000 but realized early on that it would be nearly impossible to find one at that price that was also dependable.

Thank God for the Internet. I found a 1997 Dodge Ram I really liked at a local dealer and it seemed like a good deal. I looked it up on the Internet and discovered that that particular model is plagued with transmission problems. Suddenly that $3700 truck was not looking so great. A new transmission and other minor repairs would total about $3000.

Bummer! The search continues...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Goats Do NOT Eat Everything!

Goats like to eat leaves, weeds, shrubs, tree bark, and garden vegetables. They do NOT eat everything. In fact, they don't even prefer grass, but they will eat it if there is nothing better. Sheep make much better lawn mowers.

I just returned from a 4-day Goat Browsing Academy. It was an intensive seminar about raising goats, focusing on what goats eat and renting goats out for land enhancement projects.

My first land enhancement project started today in my own yard. It is filled with clover. Goats like clover when it goes to seed. Therefore, I put my 2 bucks in the yard to feast on the clover seed heads. Hopefully, we will have a lot less clover sprouting up in our yard next year. That is, if I get the goats out of there before they poop the seeds out...

Many seeds will pass through a goat's digestive system unharmed in about 3 days. Therefore, you can "transplant" vegetation by letting goats eat the seed heads and then move them to another location. I will move my goats back to their pasture in 3 days so that the clover is replanted there for next year. Seed and fertilizer in one convenient portable package! Gotta love it!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Building Projects

As I was painting some dressers for our bedroom the other day, I was reflecting on our first 1½ years on the farm. We knew we were in for a lot of work when we bought our farm. All of the buildings were in need of repair and the house was (is) a real fixer-upper.

We didn’t have any building experience so we’ve hired contractors for all of the big jobs. But we’ve done our fair share and have learned a lot along the way. The first “major” project we tackled ourselves was to build a chicken coop, then a duck pen, rabbit cages, a rabbit hutch, goat feeders, a fence around our yard, and a goat stand.

Then there are the projects that don’t require building in the traditional sense. Those would include building portable goat shelters, installing a hand pump at the barn to pump water out of the stream so we don’t have to carry buckets of water anymore, erecting electric fences, patching & painting walls, and refinishing dressers for the bedrooms and vanities.

It’s hard work but we have a wonderful sense of accomplishment when each project is finished, and we’ve learned a lot. Our future projects include building a goat shelter out of lumber from a recent demolition project and putting a roof on our deck.

I can’t wait to get a roof over the deck!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Roosters in the Garden

Brett spent most of the day in the garden last Thursday and got most of it planted. Feeling good about it, he came in got a shower and we ate dinner and went to the awards ceremony at Ryan's school.

Upon returning home we discovered that we forgot to close the garden gate and 2 roosters were in the garden. They had eaten ALL the tomatoe plants and scratched up a bunch of seeds. Brett was seething.

Saturday morning, we caught 5 of the roosters and took them to the flea market and sold them. We kept the 3 with the nicest temperaments.

I wish I would have had a video camera to film Brett chasing those blasted chickens out of the garden.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Things They Never Tell You

Molly & her baby girl

All of our cashmere goats have had their kids. We had 14 kids from 8 does. Unfortunately 3 of the kids died. I think if we would have had prior experience at this, we could have prevented all 3 deaths. I spent a year intensively researching how to raise cashmere goats, but there is only so much you can learn from books, classes and farm tours. The rest you have to experience.

One thing I never dreamed I would experience is treating mastitis in a goat. Mastitis is an infection in the udder. I’m not sure if Molly has it or not, but she has not been letting her kids nurse. We did not realize that until we found one dead. I’ve learned a lot about how to recognize unhealthy kids this year.

Mastitis is a common reason that a doe stops nursing her kids. To treat it, I purchased a large plastic syringe filled with antibiotics and injected half the medicine into each teat. It was not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be and the medicine only cost $5.20. I wish human medicine was so cheap!

We secured Molly on the goat stand and gave her a bucketful of oats. Ryan held one of her back legs up so she couldn’t kick. I injected the medicine while Molly happily munched on her oats. It didn’t seem to bother her at all. We bottle fed her doeling to allow time for the antibiotics to work. The next morning I milked Molly so her baby wouldn't ingest the antibiotics, then reunited them that afternoon. That was 3 days ago and mom and kid seem to be doing well.

We haven't named this baby girl yet. She is small and sweet, and she has the biggest set of lungs of any of the kids. She's LOUD! Leave a comment with your suggestions.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Our Garden

We’ve had small gardens in the past – mostly tomatoes and peppers – but this year we’re putting in the “big one”. Well, at least it’s big for us. A neighbor man with a tractor plowed it for us. He only wanted $5. We convinced him to take $20 because he saved us A LOT of backbreaking work.

It is well fertilized since we strategically positioned it where we raised 2 pigs and kept the floorless chicken coop last year. We’ll also use natural fertilizer from our goats, sheep, llamas, rabbits and chickens.

We are planting tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, radishes, butternut squash, string beans, watermelon, and cantaloupe. If we have room, we’ll add brussel sprouts and other cool weather crops in July.
The fence around the garden is electric netting to keep the roosters out. Based on how fast they ate my hostas, they'd devour our new garden plants in a flash!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy

I haven't posted in a while because life has been BUSY! So here's a summary of what's been happening on the farm ...

Combing Goats
Cashmere is harvested by either combing it out as it sheds or shearing. We choose to comb. It took me about 2 hours per goat to comb out the cashmere and trim their hooves. I got much faster after the first few as I refined my technique. There is still a little bit to do, but most of them are done.

Renovating the Old Store
We have the original county grocery store next to our house. It was basically just a shell - no utilities, sagging foundation, old roof, etc. We've had contractors here for about 3 weeks working to fix it up.

To save a little money, I am the errand girl. Everytime they need materials, I run for them. Not to mention that I need to be on hand to answer questions and make decisions about how we want things done. I'm excited to get it done, but the construction process is a bit disruptive. Fortunately, we have a great contractor.

It will become a woodturning shop for Brett and a fiber studio for me. More details on that later...

I took a whirlwind vacation to the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival and to Pennsylvania to visit family and bring our son home from college. It was a great trip but I was exhausted by the time we got home.
The festival was awesome and I bought about a dozen different kinds of wool and fleeces so that I could spin them to learn first-hand the differences between them. I'm not sure how many breeds of sheep there are, but there's got to be at least 50 - all with different wool. I am focusing on those with wool soft enough to wear against the skin.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hickory Chickens

I had never heard of Hickory Chickens before we moved to Tennessee. They are odd little things. They don't cackle or crow and you don't have to feed them like traditional chickens. They live in the woods and you hunt them.

More sophisticated folks call them Morel Mushrooms. I've been told that this has been a banner year for them. Our friends, Steve & Rhonda, gave us some because they had found more they could eat.

We had them for dinner tonight. We almost tricked Ryan into thinking it was fried chicken, but he was too smart. Brett and I were finished eating by the time he took one bite. He liked it.

We sliced them in half lengthwise, breaded them with flour and a little seasoning, and fried them in a pan of oil. Ryan and I both thought that they would be rubbery, but they were crispy on the outside and a little mushy on the inside. They were good, but we didn't think that they tasted like chicken.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Last year we purchased our first chicks. We wanted to try out several different heritage breeds so we bought 2 or 3 each of a number of breeds.

If you are going to buy a large number of chicks, you can order them via a catalog or internet and choose whether you want males, females, or straight run (a mix). We did not want a large quantity so we bought our chicks locally, straight run. Of the 16 we purchased, we now have 9 left – all roosters.

That would be OK, but we really wanted laying hens.

Much to my delight, the farm store had Black Sex-Link chicks this morning. They are a cross between a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire rooster and a Barred Rock hen. They hatch out black, but the males have a white dot on their heads and the females do not.

I purchased 10 female chicks (pullets). No roosters in our future this time! We will keep them in a brooder in the house until they start to develop feathers and it gets a little warmer outside. Then we will move them to the chicken coop and in about 6 months they will start laying wonderfully delicious eggs.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Simple Life

Our Sunday School teacher read a verse from the Bible yesterday that really struck a chord with me: “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands... Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12 (NLT)

I think this verse captures the essence of living a simple life. But our lives are far from simple. We live in a fixer-upper house, we have started a farm, Brett has a full time job off the farm, and we have a son in college and one in high school. We have enough farm and house projects to keep us busy for a very long time.

Operating a profitable farm requires more than just building fences and taking care of the livestock. It also requires recordkeeping, financial projections, product development, research on animal care, market research, advertising and marketing, networking, attending conferences and shows, educating potential buyers, etc, etc…

Despite all that, I think the simple life is worth striving for. We are in a busy season of our lives right now but I envision a day when we transition from building our farm to running our farm. A day when we will still be busy but there will be more order. A day when life will be simpler.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Rabbit Hutch

NOTE: If you don't like the way we keep our rabbits, that's OK. However, don't bother leaving a nasty comment because I am just going to delete it. I've done quite a bit of research on how to keep angora rabbits and this is the best accomodation I found. If you have a better idea, PLEASE leave a comment with a link to the resource(s). I am always looking for better ways to do things. I'm just tired of all the unhelpful nasty-grams. Thanks!

After a week of feeling like I couldn’t get a project done, it was nice to actually finish one today. Nothing glamorous, but satisfying nonetheless. We sheared the last of our 4 rabbits and cleaned the rabbit hutch.

The rabbit hutch consists of 4 wire rabbit cages (which we made) and a shelter to keep the rain off of the rabbits. They don’t need much protection from the cold – they have angora – but they do need protection from the rain, wind and scorching sun. We positioned our hutch right outside our backdoor in a nice shady spot.

The plastic all around it is to help keep it from getting too cold in the winter. We’ll take it down for the warmer months to allow the breeze to help cool them down.

Cleaning the hutch is pretty easy. Most of the droppings land on the ground since the cages are made of wire. However, some get caught so we use a small shovel or hand trowel to clean them out. Then the fun begins. We use a propane torch to burn the shedded hair off the cages. Ryan was more than happy to do that job. After the cages are clean, we scoop the poop and put it in the garden.

Rabbit poop is great fertilizer and it’s not “hot” so it does not need to be composted like manure. It can go straight into the garden. Now if only the garden fairy would come and dig up our garden so we can plant our carrots…

Friday, April 3, 2009

What do Sheep and Baseballs Have in Common?

Wool, of course!

A baseball has three basic parts: the round cushioned cork pill at its core, the wool and poly/cotton windings in its midsection, and the cowhide covering.

Wool was selected as the primary material for the baseball's windings because its natural resiliency and "memory" allow it to compress when pressure is applied, then rapidly return to its original shape. This property makes it possible for the baseball to retain its perfect roundness despite being hit repeatedly during a game. A poly/cotton blend was selected for the outer winding to provide added strength and reduce the risk of tears when the ball's cowhide cover is applied.

The wool yarn is wound so tightly that it has the appearance of thread when a baseball is dissected. Three layers of wool are wound around the baseball: the first, 121 yards of four-ply gray yarn; the second, 45 yards of three-ply white; and the third, 53 yards of three-ply gray.

A layer of 150 yards of fine poly/cotton finishing yarn is wrapped around the ball to protect the wool yarn and hold it in place. The wound ball is then trimmed of any excess fabric and prepared for the application of the external cowhide covering by being dipped in an adhesive solution.

The cover of an official baseball is made of white Number One Grade, alum-tanned full-grained cowhide, and it must be stitched together with 88 inches of waxed red thread.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

In Full Swing

This is Ryan's first time on a baseball team and he is loving it. After weeks of practice, the J. Frank White Academy had its season opener this week on the field of Lincoln Memorial University.

Ryan did great. He had one of the few hits of the game and is enjoying his perfect batting average. Unfortunately, he was marooned on first base since the next 3 batters struck out. They have a young, inexperienced team so this might be a tough year BUT the future looks good. The kids have great attitudes and a lot of potential, and they are working hard to improve. GO KNIGHTS!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Playing with Angora

Finally, after all the work of shearing our Angora rabbits, I get a reward! The photo above is a basketful of their wonderfully soft fiber; 1.9 ounces to be exact. Our best producer this quarter was Jamie. She gave us 5 ounces of Angora.

Last night while we were watching the new James Bond movie, Quantam of Solace, I had the opportunity to play with some of it. I spun a 2-ply 100% Angora yarn and knit a small swatch (photo below). That swatch was made from 0.2 ounces of fiber.

Angora is very lightweight, amazingly soft, 7 times warmer than wool, and it has a halo (which is a fancy way of saying that it is fuzzy or fluffy).

I will probably combine most of our Angora fiber with a very soft wool like Merino or Corriedale to reduce the halo and give the yarn memory. Memory is an important characteristic in yarn because it keeps garments from losing their shape. Wool has memory, Angora does not. But what it lacks in memory it makes up for in luxuriousness.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rabbit Shearing Day

Jamie, before her haircut

Ryan and I sheared 2 of our 4 angora rabbits today. It happens 3 or 4 times a year. It's a messy job; the fur gets EVERYWHERE. The photos are of Jamie, our female German Angora. She is even more beautiful in real life. I don’t know why, but it is hard to get a good photo of an Angora rabbit.

It took us 4 or 5 hours to shear 2 rabbits. I’ve been assured that it goes much faster with more practice. Hmmm…. I hope so! We tried using electric clippers for the first time today. Ryan did a lot of the shearing. I think with better clippers and more practice we will be able to do it much faster.

Jamie, after her haircut

Yes, it is the same rabbit in both photos. Jamie’s fur is brown and gray at the tips and white at the base.

As soon as I get a chance, I want to spin some of the angora into yarn and try felting some of it. I don’t know what I’ll make with it yet, but one thing’s for sure… it’ll be soft and warm!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Goat Shelter

It's raining today which reminded me that lots of people have asked me what type of shelter is necessary for cashmere goats. Since cashmere goats grow cashmere, they don't need shelter for warmth. However, they tend to seek shelter from the rain and wind.

As a beginning farmer, I was surprised to learn that a lot of farmers nowadays don't keep their animals in barns. Crowding a bunch of animals in a barn leads to respiratory infections, a condition that goats and sheep are particularly susceptible to. Another benefit of not keeping animals in the barn is that there are no stalls to clean. We use our barn for storage (hay, camper, building materials, tools, etc.) and for temporary animal housing, such as when we need to quarantine an animal because it is sick or new to the farm.

In our goat pastures, we've built sturdy, inexpensive and portable goat tunnels. It is extremely important to build these tunnels with sides that are nearly vertical so the goats cannot climb on them. Also, place the tunnel where goats can access both ends so that none of your “bullies” can block the entrance and hog the whole shelter for themselves.

While one person can build a goat tunnel, it requires at least 2 people to set it up. The following instructions are for building a 13’ x 4½’ tunnel. We purchased all materials at the local farm store except the tarp, which we bought at Wal-Mart, and the lumber, metal strapping, and screws. The total cost was about $140. It took us a few hours to build one tunnel. This is how we built ours and they work well for us. Please consider your unique situation before building this stucture.

NOTE: These instructions say to use cattle panels, which we did for the first 2 shelters we built. However, if you have horned goats, I strongly recommend that you use goat panels. They are more expensive but they have 4"x4" openings which are too small for the goats to get their heads stuck in. The total length of your tunnel will be 12" shorter because the goat panels are 48" tall rather than 52" like the cattle panels.

3 cattle panels (52” x 16’)
9’x12’ tarp
4 – 5’ T-posts
2 – 16’ 2x4s
Metal strapping with holes (about 1/2" wide; it comes in a roll from the hardware store)
1” or 1½” outdoor screws
Fence wire
T-post wires

Bolt cutters
Tin snips
T-post driver
Work gloves
Safety goggles

1. Using bolt cutters, shorten 3 cattle panels to 10’6” to 12’ (we did 12’, but if I had to do it again, I’d do 10’6”). Make the cuts so there is a closed rectangle on the good piece.

2. Cut the 2x4s down to 14’.

3. Cut the metal strapping into 2” pieces with tin snips.

4. Lay the cattle panels side by side and attach them to a 2x4 using the metal strapping and screws (there should be about 6” of 2x4 sticking out at each end).

5. Attach the other 2x4 to the opposite end of the panels.

6. Using fence wire, attach the panels together in 3 or 4 places along each seam.

7. Set 2 of the T-posts 12’6” apart to form the supports for one side of the tunnel.

8. Set the cattle panels on the ground with one of the 2x4s next to the T-posts. The 2x4s should be under the cattle panels so they end up on the inside of the tunnel. Carefully (you don’t want the bent panels to spring back and hit you) push the other 2x4 toward the T-posts and bend the middle of the cattle panels upwards to form the tunnel. The sides of the tunnel should be nearly vertical.

9. While one person holds the tunnel in place, the second person should install the remaining 2 T-posts to form the supports for the 2nd side. (Alternatively, you can install all the T-posts first and lift one side of the tunnel over one row of T-posts to carefully bend it to fit inside them.)

10. Connect the panels to the T-posts using T-post wires. If all has worked out correctly, the T-posts should be positioned just outside the tarp area.

11. Using twine, tie the tarp to the cattle panels.

Viola! You have a goat shelter. Now, give yourself a pat on the back, get a cold drink and sit back to admire your work for a while.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

International Year of Natural Fibers

The General Assembly of the United Nations has designated 2009 as the "International Year of Natural Fibers". The objectives are to bring attention to and stimulate demand for natural fibers, to encourage worldwide governmental support, to foster international partnerships, and to promote the sustainability of fiber industries.

As a cashmere goat farmer and natural fiber enthusiast, I find this very exciting. Around 30 million tonnes (1 tonne = 2204 pounds) of natural fibers are produced annually. However, since the 1960s, the use of synthetic fibres has increased dramatically causing the natural fiber industry to lose much of their market share.

Textiles made of natural fibers have been a fundamental part of human life since the dawn of civilization. Fragments of cotton articles dated from 5000 BC have been excavated in Mexico and Pakistan. According to Chinese tradition, people began using silk in the 27th century BC. The oldest wool textile, discovered in Denmark, dates from 1500 BC.

While the methods used to make fabrics have improved since then, their functions have changed very little. Most natural fibers are still used to make clothing and containers and to insulate, soften and decorate our living spaces.

“Keep the Fleece” is an international natural fiber contest open to anyone. Final judging will be done by a panel of international experts in October at the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY. Visit for more details. To learn more about natural fibers and the “International Year of Natural Fiber”, visit

Now, read those clothing tags and buy clothing made with natural fibers! No synthetic can compare - IMHO ;o)

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Yuck!

The Good
After about a week of rain, the sun is finally shining! We had 8 goat kids in a week and all but one are still living. The little guy who was struggling seems to be pulling through.

It's fun to watch those kids playing. They jump around kind of like rabbits, hopping rather than running sometimes. They are very amusing. I'm looking forward to some sunny days so we can watch them without getting soaked!

The Bad
It was a tiring week. All of the goats kidded without problem, but as I mentioned before, one buckling died and his brother was not doing well. We kept him in the house the past several days. Consequently, I did not get much of anything done except tending to him. It's not that he required that much attention, but I couldn't help just watching him. Goat kids are very cute. Besides, I was not concentrating very well from lack of sleep. Just like human babies, goat kids need to nurse in the middle of the night.

The Yuck
Don't read this if you are eating... Part of nursing this little goat back to health included giving him enemas. Honestly, I've never given an enema to anyone or anything before. I sat on the edge of the tub with his hind-end hanging into the tub. I'll spare you the details; suffice it to say it was messy! Fortunately the tub is easy to clean. Once he started pooping normally again, he pooped a lot. Our dogs cleaned up after him, which was DISGUSTING but convenient. I have never, and will never, let dogs lick me!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Just Kidding Around

We've had 7 goat kids this week - 5 bucklings and 2 doelings. We were hoping to have more doelings than bucklings, but since 4 of our 8 does have kidded, it looks like that is not going to happen.

One of the bucklings that was born yesterday died last night, and his brother is struggling. I have him by a heater in the kitchen right now.

Several hours later...

My day has been consumed by kidding activities. The little guy I'm nursing along has had most of my attention. I actually brought his mom inside so he could nurse. I kept her just inside the back door. When he was done nursing, I put them both outside in the rabbit hutch with a thick bed of straw, just outside our back door so I could keep a close eye on them.

In the midst of all that, Violet gave birth to twins around noon, which I've checked several times. They are snow-white.

Cashmere goats are very hardy, but in the cool, wet weather we've been having kids are susceptible to chilling. When they are chilled, they won't nurse. When they are cold and don't nurse they get weak and die. It can happen fast. That's why I check on the newborns every hour or so.

I'm looking forward to relaxing with Brett and a good movie tonight. Maybe with a buckling in my lap...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Our First Kid

We are having an exciting day. Eleanor just gave birth to her first kid and I had the good fortune to watch the birth. I wish I'd have had a video camera... it was amazing! Since his mom is a Roosevelt, we decided to name our new buckling Teddy.

We are expecting 10-14 goat kids over the next month or so. We have 8 pregnant does and Cashmere goats often have twins. There are a number of factors that determines if a goat has twins, including genetics, age (first time moms have a higher rate of singles), and nutrition.

The photos on this post are of Grover and Eleanor, the proud parents on the day they conceived, and Eleanor and Teddy, this morning. Teddy is about 1/2 hour old in this photo.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Intro to Cashmere Goats

A lot of people are surprised to learn that cashmere comes from a goat. Yep, it’s true – the ultra soft “fiber of kings” comes from a lowly goat. I didn’t know it either until we purchased our current home and decided to start a farm. Most of our property is mountainside and wooded, so we had to find an animal that we could raise on this nontraditional farmland. Goats seemed like a natural choice. I never imagined I would raise goats, but when I learned that they produce cashmere I was hooked.

All goats except the angora goat have 2 hair follicles; one that produces coarse guard hair and another that produces a downy undercoat. Cashmere goats have been bred to produce a lot of down that is at least 1.25” long and less than 18.5 microns in diameter.

Cashmere is not a breed of goat, but rather a type. The North American Cashmere Goat Breed Standard has been recently developed and adopted by the Eastern Cashmere Association as a measure by which to judge cashmere goats. It is an important step toward establishing a cashmere goat breed.

Cashmere goats have a variety of “looks”. Some have short guard hair and some have long guard hair. They also come in a variety of colors from white to brown and silver to black. The goat featured in the photo at the top of this blog is one of our long-haired bucks, Spotless. The photos with this post is one of our does, Desire. Desire is a short haired goat; you can see the light colored cashmere growing out under the dark guard hair. The photo with the log in the backgroud is from the fall. The other one is from last week. She has grown a lot of cashmere since the fall. I love to pet her – she is very, very soft.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Babydoll Southdown Sheep

4/21/09 Update: This is not a purebred Babydoll Southdown. Read the comments on this post to learn more about them.
Today's photo is of our Babydoll Southdown Ram that I spoke of in the last post. He is cute but unpredictable. One minute he charges me, and the next minute he wants to crawl into my lap. This photo doesn't show how adorable he really is.
The wool of the Babydoll Southdown sheep is very soft. The softness is determined, in part, by the diameter of each piece of wool. These sheep have very fine wool, measuring 19-22 microns (a micron is 1/1000 of a mm). As small as that is, there are a few fibers even smaller and softer, including cashmere and angora.

He is our only BS sheep. I purchased him at an auction because he was "cute and cheap". I don't regret getting him, but I don't recommend the "cute and cheap" impulse purchases of animals. Do your research and know what you are getting into!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Flying Roosters

Today was a pretty average day on the farm. I took Ryan to school, came home, fed the animals, paid bills, blah, blah, blah... This morning, our little Babydoll Southdown ram (about 24" tall) bucked me. It's happened before, but today he got me at just the right place and my knee still hurts. That little guy is unpredictable; one minute he is all lovey-dovey, the next he's charging at me. I've been trying to come up with a name for him. Maybe Dr. Jeckyl?

After school, Ryan and I set out to vaccinate the goats. We managed to do 8 of them, the other 2 were impossible to catch. We'll catch up with them when they least expect it. Afterwards, Ryan went out to the woods to work on his fort. When he returned he informed me that he cut down a 150' dead tree with his hatchet. His adrenaline was running quite high after his "near-death" experience. Ahhh... life with boys...

Some people were surprised to learn that we have so many animals, so I took some more photos today to share with y'all. Today's photo is of our crazy rooster. Who says roosters can't fly? He sure didn't crawl up the side of that horse trailer! Stay tuned for more photos in the future.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Starting Our Farm - The Cliff Notes Version

I've been contemplating what direction this blog should take. Should I write about the joys and challenges of starting a new farm? Rural living? Raising fiber-producing animals? Living in a fixer-upper? Our hobbies - spinning, knitting, crocheting (Beth), woodturning (Brett & Ryan), and chopping things down (Ryan)? I think it will be a combination of all these things and more.

We moved from a suburban neighborhood in PA to a rural wooded property in TN in August 2007. Seven months after we moved, we acquired our first farm animals: 2 free bottle baby pigs. We kept them in an extra large dog crate in our house for the first couple of weeks until we finished building an outside pen. It was a little messy, but they didn't start to stink until we weaned them off the bottle and put them on pig food. Fortunately, that was about the same time we moved them outside.

Since then, we've added chickens, ducks, angora rabbits, cashmere goats, llamas, sheep, and dogs to the farm. I have many stories to tell about our adventures to date, and I look forward to the adventures yet to come.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why Today?

I've been thinking about starting a blog for a while, so why now? Well, there have recently been some events that I had the urge to write about, but mostly it is because I don't want to do anything on my to-do list today. Ahhh... procrastination... it can be a terrific motivator!