Thursday, December 16, 2010

Our Farm in the Snow

This week has been unusually snowy here and last night we had freezing rain. I think we are going to brave the sloppy roads to go out for dinner tonight. I am feeling terribly shut-in!

Here is a virtual tour of our farm in the snow. I hope you enjoy it!

The holly tree in front of our house looks particularly festive in the snow.

Our male cashmere goats taking a break from lunch to take advantage of a photo op!

Our house. Soon there will be smoke coming from the chimney. The fireplaces are shot so we just ordered a wood stove. I can't wait until it gets here!

Ryan looks happy in this photo, but believe me, feeding in the snow is not much fun. But it's better than feeding in the rain!

Our dam. Or, as the real estate agent called it, our waterfall. Either way, it is beautiful no matter the season.

Can't you just hear these boys saying to each other, "Do you think that thing is edible?"

Sheep & Llamas.

Our barn. It's old & rustic, but I love it! I'll never forget the feeling of satisfaction and pure joy I had the first time I swung open "my" barn doors!

Don't worry about the animals being cold. They all have their winter coats on!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Store is Open!

After months of planning and weeks of blood, sweat & splinters (from sanding antique apple crates), our store is finally open! Here is a virtual tour of the store...

We found this wonderful hutch in PA while visiting family. It is perfect for our loose leaf tea & tea accessories. There's always a pot of hot water on for you to sample the tea while you shop.

Yarn, Knitting, Crochet & Spinning Supplies

This cabinet is going to be used to display gourmet food mixes. They'll arrive in a couple weeks - just enough time to get the cabinet fixed up. On top of the cabinet is a sampling of the fine handcrafts we're carrying. These wooden villages are made by The Village Idiot and are available in flat paint, crackle paint & wormy chestnut. They are better looking in real life.

Aren't the plant & flowers lovely? My family sent them with an encouraging note.

We found a very cool antique checkout counter and a sweet child's chalkboard to write our specials on. Notice the handpainted slates behind the chalkboard. The wash basin at the far end of the counter holds goat's milk soap.

We're open Thurs 10-8, Fri 10-6, and Sat 10-4. Other times by appointment or chance. Stop by and check us out! Click here for directions.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An Average Farm Day

Today is an average day at Mountain Hollow Farm, except that Ryan is on a mission trip so he's not here to feed the animals. Therefore, I got up at 7:45 am, ate a banana for breakfast, checked Facebook, email & Twitter (a great form of procrastination), and then fed all the animals except the chickens. They lay their eggs in the afternoon, so we feed & collect the eggs in late afternoon.

Feeding the animals usually takes less than an hour. It took a little longer this morning because I cleaned the rabbits' water bottles, put out mineral blocks for the goats, moved the bucks to a new paddock, and cleaned their water bucket. I never used as much bleach in all my life as I have in the past 2 years since we started farming. There's nothing better for cleaning water buckets & bottles.

After I'm done writing this post, I'll start doing paperwork. Two of my least favorite jobs are housework and paperwork, but it has to be done. I've not recorded our farm expenses in a couple months so I have a large pile of receipts to sort through - not to mention mail and bills. It'll probably be a multi-day job.

I've been surprised at how much paperwork I've had to do. When we started farming, I thought I'd spend more time with the animals than behind my desk, but that's not been the case. If I'm not paying bills and recording expenses, then I'm ordering products for the store or farm, updating animal records, designing knitting & crochet classes, marketing classes & tours, or researching everything between the best method for controlling parasites in goats and which yarns to carry in the store.

This afternoon a student is coming over for Algebra II tutoring. I have a bachelors degree in math, so that will be no problem.

Then it'll be time for dinner. After dinner, I am going to watch a couple of episodes of Burn Notice on DVD while I design a flyer to promote educational farm tours to teachers. The past few evenings (while watching TV), I've been researching the TN curriculum standards to figure out which standards we can help the teachers reinforce with a tour of our farm.

Normally, I'd be knitting or crocheting during my evening TV but I need to get the flyer done by Friday because we have a booth at the White Lightning Festival on Saturday in Cumberland Gap. If you are in the TN, KY, VA tri-state area, visit us at the festival. We'll be there 10am - 7pm. Admission is free. Our booth is in the pavilion at Berkau Park, across the street from the Old Mill Bed & Breakfast.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Exhausted & Rejuvinated

I've been in Columbus, Ohio for 5 days and I've only seen about 5 blocks of the city. Why, you ask? I've been at the National Needle Arts (TNNA) Show. It is a huge trade show for yarn and needlepoint stores.

It has been an exhausting 5 days of knitting classes, business classes and an enormous trade show. It was hard to narrow down what to buy for the store. I could have easily spent $50k, but my budget was much, much, much smaller. Most of my purchases will be shipped to the store, but I am coming back with a few goodies including some absolutely adorable baby sweater kits.

I've learned a lot at this show and have met some incredible people. I met Gwen Bortner, a national knitting teacher, and we discovered that her husband and my sister were classmates in elementary school.

I am exhausted and overwhelmed, yet I also feel rejuvinated and excited. I can't wait to get back to the farm and implement some of my new ideas.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Classes

Things are really shaping up in the store. We've added 10 flavors of loose leaf tea , tea accessories, yarn, and some new classes. For more information about any of these classes, contact Beth at (423) 869-8927 or

Block of the Month Club (Knit or Crochet)
Knit or crochet a beautiful afghan one square at a time. Classes will start on June 1st and will be the first Tuesday of each month at 10 am and 6 pm. You can come to one or both classes – they will be the same. We’ll encourage each other, compare blocks, and learn the new stitches for the block of the month. The only cost is for the pattern book and yarn, and you can join in any month.

Beginner Knitting Lessons
Wednesdays June 9, 16 & 23, 3 – 4:30 pm at Mountain Hollow Farm. Master the basics of knitting in the continental style: casting on, knitting, purling, increasing, decreasing, binding off, and pattern reading. You’ll knit a scarf and dishcloth. When you are finished with this class, you will have the skills and confidence you need to begin a new project. The cost is $50, which includes the 3 lessons, a beginner knitting kit, & yarn for the projects.

Stitch & Spin
Every Saturday, 10 am – noon AND every Tuesday, 6-8 PM (except the 1st Tuesday of the month which is Block of the Month Club). Bring your current knitting, crochet or spinning project to stitch or spin as you make new friends in an inviting community of yarn lovers. Sessions are free and open to everyone.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

It's Been a While

It's been a while since my last post. We've been very busy. Here's a summary of what's been going on this spring.

We started combing goats in March. That's how we harvest the cashmere. It's called combing, but really we brush them with a dog brush. It takes about 2 hours per goat. We had 23 goats to comb.

Before we were done combing all the goats, the does started having kids. We've had 12 kids so far but 2 didn't make it. One died because the momma was small and it was too big for her to deliver. We ended up taking her to the vet for a c-section but it was just too much stress on the kid. Momma is doing fine. The fence jumper that got her pregnant is in our freezer.

The other one that died was a triplet. We were at church when they were born and I think the momma was too tired or distracted by the other 2 to take care of it right after it was born.

The 10 (7 girls, 3 boys) that we still have are doing great. They are full of life and fun to watch. There are 2 more does that are supposed to be pregnant, but I'm starting to wonder if they really are.

A few weeks ago, the Claiborne Leadership class toured our farm. It was a great time and the newspaper printed a story about it on Wednesday. That was great free publicity! We already received an inquiry about farm tours as a result of the article.

The store is starting to feel like a real store. Last week, I placed a large orders for yarn, books, and loose leaf tea. The tea is in and the rest should arrive in a few days.

I am starting a Block of the Month Club in which participants will knit or crochet a beautiful afghan one square at a time. More details can be found at

Whew! I can't wait to see what summer has in store for us!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kidding Season 2010

Kidding season has begun! We had 4 kids on Thursday. Two sets of twins - all girls. They are all silver just like their dad. We're expecting 10-14 more kids over the next month.

Here are some photos of the darlings.

Mocha & Her kids

One of Violet's kids

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Knitting on the Road

This is an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal. I couldn’t resist posting it since I’m a knitter and Brett’s a truck driver. Maybe after reading this he’ll become interested in knitting! Here’s a link to the complete article:

Some truckers are finding themselves with more spare time on the road. Loads of goods delivered by truckers fell 15% in 2009, to 170 million loads, the largest drop in modern history, said Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations.

With declining freight, truckers who drive hundreds of miles to make a delivery may not immediately have a load lined up for the return trip. So they bide time at truck stops, where they can shower, dine and sleep in their rigs. A couple of years ago, a driver might drop off a load and pick up a new one in two hours; now the wait can be two days, said Mr. Costello.

Kevin Abraham-Banks, a 37-year-old trucker with a shaved head and dragon tattoos, passes time at truck stops with his cocoa and knitting.

Mr. Banks, who lives in Sioux Falls, S.D., and hauls romaine lettuce between California and the Midwest, learned to knit last year after load-volumes slowed. Creating something tangible beats sitting around the truck stop "talking about who has a bigger radio," he said. He's finished a scarf and socks, and is working on a sweater for his wife.

"The fact that you can take strands of thread and basically make something out of it, that's awesome I think," he said. "It's pretty cool stuff, man."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Spring Has Sprung!

Our Ducklings

Yes, it's still cold outside and there are even patches of snow on the ground, but it feels like spring here at Mountain Hollow Farm because we received 15 ducklings in the mail yesterday.

In a month or so when they are ready to go outside, we will put them in the pasture with our goats. These ducklings are Khaki Campbells, one of several breeds that are excellent foragers. They love to eat plants and bugs, including liver flukes and other nasty parasites that can infect goats.

Parasite infestation is one of the leading causes of death in goats and the parasites are becoming resistant to medications. Therefore, the more we can do to prevent infestation, the better.

Another benefit to this breed is that they make good mothers, so maybe next year, we'll have more little ducklings.

Young Adult Khaki Campbells
(photo compliments of Cackle Hatchery)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Sad Day at MHF

Today was a sad day. We found Spotless, our mascot goat, dead. He got twisted up in a cross fence in the pasture and couldn't get out.

You hear about things like that happening, but you never think it will happen to yourself. It is really terrible to lose a goat to something like that. When we erected that fence, it never crossed my mind that a goat would get tangled in it. It's electric, so one touch and they should back off. Of course now I look at it and think "I should have known better".

When we first erected the fence, it was 4 electric wires and some of the goats would sneak right through between the wires. So we added more wire but it was loose and loopy. That was our mistake. No more loose and loopy fences for us. A new, safer fence is going up tomorrow and the boys who don't respect the fence will be wethered (fixed), sold, or taken to the butcher.

Spotless was a wonderful goat. He was beautiful, had a great personality, and respected the fence... until last night.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Contact Us

Mountain Hollow Farm is a cashmere goat farm situated on the historic Vancel Mill property along Blairs Creek, just 1.2 miles off Route 25E between Tazewell and Harrogate. While the mill is no longer standing, the original home, store and barn are.

The directions are the same whether you are traveling from the north or south.
1. From Route 25E, turn onto Blairs Creek Road directly across from the RO Giles Flea Market.
2. Turn right onto Harbor Road.
3. Turn left onto Vancel Road (it is a gravel road).
4. Travel 0.9 mile to the farm on the left.

Mountain Hollow Farm
553 Vancel Road, Tazewell, TN 37879
(423) 869-8927
Twitter: MHFCashmere

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Moving the Coop

Generally, I think we live a pretty normal life. But sometimes we do very un-ordinary things. I wish I would have remembered to take a photo of this one.

The other day, Brett decided it was time to move the chicken coop.

We also call it the poultry palace because it turned out so big. It was our first building project. We were trying to build a floorless coop that could be easily moved so the chickens would always have access to fresh grass. Well... it's a great coop but it is way too heavy to move easily.

Therefore, Brett got the tow-rope out and hooked the coop to the back of his truck. Not a pick-up truck, mind you, but an 18 wheeler cab. Like I said, I wish I would have taken pictures. It was quite a sight. Especially when he got stuck in the yard.

The Poultry Palace

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Stitch & Spin

Today was my first Stitch & Spin session. I was a little nervous about it, but it turned out great! Five knitters attended. We had a great time sharing knitting tips, getting to know each other, and looking at each other's projects. The conversation was varied; everything from knitting tips to funny stories about children "flipping the bird" (don't worry, there was nothing vulgar about it) and before we knew it, it was time to go.

Now I can't wait until next week's session. Stitch & Spin is a free 2-hour session on Saturdays from 10am-noon for yarn lovers. If you knit, crochet or spin, bring your current project and join us. For more information, contact me at (423) 869-8927 or

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Interesting Egg Facts

1Our chickens are finally laying enough eggs that we have some to sell. A friend asked me recently how long eggs stay fresh. I knew (the kind of know that you’ve known as long as you can remember but you don’t know why) that eggs stay fresh for a couple months but I had no official documentation of that so I did a little research.

A hen puts a protective coating (called the bloom) on the egg as she lays it. The bloom keeps contaminants from entering pores in the shell (eggshells have up to 17,000 pores). Processing plants wash the eggs and coat them with mineral oil to replace the bloom. This protective coating is removed when you wash or boil the egg. [Source]

I could not find an official governmental agency that would state how long an egg stays fresh from the time it is laid, but I found enough sites that said basically the same thing that I believe the following information is accurate.

This answer from sums it up the best: Farmers have 30 days from the day an egg is laid to get it to stores. Then, the stores have another 30 days to sell the eggs. The USDA recommends a maximum of 5 weeks in your refrigerator before you discard your eggs. What does this all boil down to? On April 1, you could be eating an egg that was laid on Christmas.

I'm not suggesting that you eat 3 month old eggs, but do you really like the idea that your eggs could be a month old before they even get to the store? Wouldn’t you much rather buy them from a local farmer? You’ll get better eggs, support the local economy, and they’ll be way healthier than the factory raised eggs sold in the supermarket.

According to, eggs from hens raised on pasture show 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D as typical supermarket eggs. If that’s not reason enough to buy eggs from chickens that actually get to eat their natural diet, then consider this: compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:

• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

So there you have it… Properly handled farm fresh eggs are healthier, will last longer in your refrigerator, and taste better than factory-farm-supermarket-eggs. Now support your local farmers and go buy some farm fresh eggs!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Our Farm in the Snow

Yesterday we had the biggest snow storm since we moved here 2 1/2 years ago - about 8". It made it difficult to feed the animals, but I carried my camera along and took some good pictures... and had a great workout! Here is a pictorial walk around our farm in the snow:

Cool snowcicle on our back porch roof

A photomerged panoramic view from our back porch. We start our feeding routine at the house. The dogs and rabbits are in the yard. From there we feed the chickens and goats just outside the far end of the yard.

Grover (pictured) & 2 bucklings are near the house. We'll move them back with the other boys this week if we can pull the trailer through the snow.

The dam is about half way between the house & pasture

We've made it to the "big" pasture and loaded up the hay cart.
Ryan is pulling it through the snow. I helped by pushing.
It was quite a workout for both of us!

Hungry goats chasing after the fresh hay

Our Cashmere bucks enjoying their hay

Elvis is trying to sneak an extra share

On our way from the pasture to the barn, we go back past the house...

... and the store

The barn is our last stop. We need to feed the sheep
and llamas. Unfortunately, they were being camera shy.

This one is for my friend, Christy, who loves the
scraggly old holly tree in front of our house.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Making Lye Soap

I never thought I would make lye soap, but that is exactly what we did the other day. It all started with raising pigs and the butcher telling me that you can make soap with lard (melted pig fat). So I took many pounds of frozen pig fat home and made lard. You can read about that in this post.

The only ingredients in lye soap are water, lye and lard. Other ingredients can be added for fragrance and lather but they are not necessary. We bought lye at our local farm store.

It was an easy process. Just combine lye with water and when it cools to about room temperature pour the melted lard into it and stir until it is well combined. Pour into a mold (we used a plastic sweater box) and let it cool completely. The next day cut it into bars. A few days later dump the soap out of the mold and let it cure (air dry) for 6 months. That’s it. (If you want to try this at home, Google “How to make lye soap” for more specific instructions.)

We didn’t wait 6 months. I started using our soap about a week after we made it. Lye soap is not like store bought soap. In many ways it is better. It has a very high concentration of glycerin so it is great for your skin.

Commercial soap makers strip a lot of the glycerin out of their soap to use in other products. They also add agents to make the soap lather but, contrary to popular belief, it is not the lather that cleans you.

I always thought that lye soap was harsh but that is not true unless you use too much lye. In the old days before lye was commercially available, people made lye water by straining water through wood ashes. It was not an exact science so sometimes the lye was too strong and the soap was harsh.

Another great benefit of making your own soap is that it is cheap. The only direct cost we incurred was for the lye, which cost about $6.50 and made 30 bars. That’s about 22 cents per bar. I don’t know how much it would cost if we had to buy the lard.

I almost forgot to tell you what scent we made! I’m calling it Country Breakfast because I scorched the lard so it smelled like bacon grease. I added orange zest, cinnamon, and vanilla to try to diminish the bacon smell but it didn’t work. We won’t use it in the shower but it won’t go to waste. We can still use it to wash our hands and for general purpose cleaning.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rendering Lard

Pigs were our first farm animals. We received 2 free piglets from a pig farmer who didn't want to fuss with bottle feeding them. After raising them to a good weight, we had them butchered. We sold one and kept the other for ourselves.

When the butcher asked if we wanted the fat, I asked him what we would do with it. I think he was kind of amused that this city girl didn't know, but he respectfully told me that we could make lard. The only thing I knew about lard was that people used to use it instead of shortening, so I asked him what I would do with all that lard and he said, "make soap".

Shortly after we received our pork, I made a batch of lard and it turned out perfectly. I froze some of it and kept some in the fridge to use for cooking.

When we decided to make soap recently, I dug out the rest of the fat from the freezer and made another batch of lard but I think I scorched it because, rather than being white and odorless, it was off-white and smelled like bacon grease.

Rendering lard is actually very easy. You just put a little water in the bottom of a pot, add chunks of fat and cook it slowly. As you cook it, the water evaporates and the fat melts.

In that fat are little pieces of meat that become deep fried. They are called cracklings and are quite tasty and terribly fattening (like all good food!). As the fat melts, the cracklings rise to the top. The lard is done when they settle back down to the bottom. The cracklings are what got scorched in my last batch of lard.

When the crackling sink, strain the lard through cheese cloth or a coffee filter to separate it from the cracklings. In liquid form lard is yellowish but it cools to white. It can be stored in the refridgerator or freezer. For more specific instructions on rendering lard, click here.

While researching how to render lard, I stumbled upon some surprising information on how healthy lard is. That's right, HEALTHY... at least compared to most of the fats you find at the grocery store.

Stayed tuned for my post about making lye soap. If you've never made it, you'll be surprised how easy it is and how great the soap is. The only ingredients are lard, water and lye. Other ingredients can be added to promote lather or add fragrance, but they are not necessary.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Fixing the Car

This story is a continuation of my prior post titled Redneck Week at MHF. The car is fixed! I forgot to take photos of it before they started working on it, but I've included photos of the hood after Andrew & Ryan cut it open with a sawzall and bolt cutters and a photo of the finished car.

The whole project cost about $300. The new hood and headlight cost $190, the very cool looking hood pins were $10, and we paid our neighbor, Andrew, $50 for his help (which was quite a bargain but he wouldn't take more).

We wouldn't have even attempted this if my brother-in-law, Tim, hadn't encouraged us to try it. Anyone can tell that it was wrecked but we are satisfied with the results, and relieved that we could fix it so cheaply. I think they did a fantastic job given that our Andrew had no experience working on cars and we don't have mechanic's tools.

I love that we keep learning new things to make us more self-sufficient! All the projects around here can become overwhelming but it is very satisfying when we are able to conquer a project unlike any we've ever done before.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

February Lessons & Bible Study

I've just posted the new lesson schedule here. In addition to beginning knitting and crochet classes, I am excited to be offering a hat class on circular needles and free session called "Stitch & Spin".

If these class times don't work for you, let me know and I'll add a class that suits your schedule. Want to learn something I'm not currently teaching? Let me know and I'll schedule a class or private lesson with you.

Click here to see the upcoming classes.

On a different but related note...

On February 8th, I am starting a 10 week knitting bible study in my home for women ages 16 and older. Each week we will study scripture that has a knitting related theme to help "knit" God's Word in our hearts. We’ll discuss the lesson and how it applies to our lives while knitting. Knitting lessons will be available for beginner knitters. Experienced knitters are encouraged to bring whatever project they are currently working on.

This bible study is limited to 8 people, so if you are interested, let me know ASAP. The only cost is for the yarn and supplies you will need for your knitting projects.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Redneck Week at MHF

First, I have to say that I love being a redneck, even if I can only claim part-time status.

This story started about 3 weeks ago. Andrew wrecked our car on his way home from college. He is fine but the car is pretty smashed up. Since it is 12 years old, we decided to try to fix it ourselves. We've never worked on our cars before other than the standard oil changes, etc.

Yesterday we finally got tired of waiting for the weather to warm up and we started. We couldn't get the hood up so after removing the bumper and grill, Andrew used a sawzall to cut a hole in the hood so we could open it and assess the damage under the hood.

That project is on hold until tomorrow when we get a new hood and headlight to install.

Today, I took a goat that died 2 weeks ago (she was frozen because of the cold weather) to a man to be skinned. Gruesome, I know, but she was in full cashmere and will make a fantastic pelt.

I wonder what other new experiences we'll have this week...