Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's a Very Merry Christmas at Our Tiny Farm!

This is a very special Christmas at our home this year.  Glen has been suffering with a very painful hip for several years.  It has often made it impossible for him to work in the garden, care for the animals, or tend to the property. But now he's taken care of it.  On Monday, he had hip replacement surgery.  And as you can see from the photo, today (Saturday) he is already outside checking on the animals (actually, he was feeding the donkey holiday mints!).  Having this surgery behind him, and knowing that every day he is going to feel better, is the best Christmas present of all.

To all our family, friends, customers, and blog readers, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  We look forward to seeing you in 2012.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Winterizing the Chicken Tractor

Chicken coop, barn, and portable fencing (for rotational grazing). 
Note the shade cloth on the chicken coop run.

Many people started raising a few chickens in chicken tractors (portable coops) this year.  We had quite a few of them stop by and take pictures of our portable coop and use those as a basis for coming up with their own designs (that were hopefully much lighter than the one we built!).  Now we are getting questions about how to get chickens through the winter without them freezing. Chickens are pretty hardy, especially most of the heritage breeds that people are choosing to raise this way, but there are things you can to to help ensure that your birds remain safe, healthy, and comfortable this winter.
  1. They should have a draft-free coop.  Not air-tight, because they need ventilation, but not drafty.  Our coop has louvered doors next to the nests and two vents, one at the top and one at the bottom of the coop.  When the weather gets below about 25 degrees F, we have cardboard inserts that we install to cover the louvres and an aluminum sliding door that we slide in to cover the upper vent.  The birds huddle together and stay quite toasty.  The coop actually feels warm when I open it in the morning and the birds appeared quite comfortable even when outside temperatures got down into the single digits.
  2. Make sure the coop is dry.  Be diligent about checking nests and bedding to make sure they are dry.  We line our nests with hay and I clean the nests daily to make sure they aren't damp.
  3. Make sure they have free flowing water.  This is a real problem for some people and I hear stories of taking fresh water to their birds several times a day or building all kinds of insulated water holders.  We bring the plastic waterer in every night and refill it and replace it each morning.  But because of our "greenhouse run", the water does not freeze during the day.  Never has.
  4. What is a "greenhouse run"?  See the pictures below.  We have a standard A-frame run, but we cover ours with greenhouse grade plastic and it has "wings" on both sides that can be raised or lowered for protection from wind and rain and for ventilation.  During the summer we usually keep one side down and have a piece of shade cloth on that side to provide shade (see picture at top of post).  When it is brutally hot and humid, we raise both sides.  In the winter we usually keep both sides down all the time.  Solar heating keeps the run comfortably warm and dry and protects the birds from the wind.  Throughout most of the winter, the end door is open to the annex (see the photos) so they can get fresh air and sunshine.  When it is REALLY nasty out, we keep the end door shut.
  5. Make sure they have plenty of high energy feed.  Our birds are on fresh ground everyday because we move the coop every morning.  They get scraps from our kitchen and garden and have access to commercial crumble, too.  But when it is really, really cold and nasty out, we also give them a dish of scratch and a morning bowl of hot oatmeal.  Oh, they love the oatmeal.  I know.  That is really spoiling them and they probably don't need it, but they sure do love it! 
And that's how we get our hens through the winter. They appear comfortable and it requires minimal effort on our part.  Below are pictures I took right after we put fresh plastic on the run last weekend.  We used a four year, polyethylene greenhouse film which should give us many years of service.  Note the aluminum flashing on the peak.  We've learned that is a wear point for our system; the first place the plastic starts breaking down, so we covered it with the flashing this time. When we "raise the wings" the hinge is that horizontal wood strip you see running across the center of the side. It folds up and is held in place with a short bungee cord.

Build Your Own Drag Chain Harrow (Manure Rake for Your Pasture)

We have small pastures on Our Tiny Farm, so good manure management is very important.  For several years, we managed manure by regularly walking the pastures with a wheelbarrow and fork and transporting it all to our compost pile, just like we do with the manure from the barn and paddock.  The manure based compost is one of the keys to our productive gardens, and collecting manure is good exercise (I tell myself as I do it), but it is a time-consuming process and hubby has a bad back which is not cut out for this kind of activity anymore.  During the growing season in particular, there just aren't enough hours in the day, so we began looking for other ways to manage the horse and donkey manure in our pastures.

I learned that if you break up the manure piles and spread them thinly across the field, the manure dries and breaks down quickly, fertilizing the pasture and killing most of the parasites.  Then I looked up "drag chain harrows" and found a great selection available to pull behind a tractor, ATV, or riding lawn mower.  But the prices were $200 and up.  There was no way I could justify that kind of expense.  So, I showed pictures of those drag chains to my son and hubby and they created one for us that didn't cost us a penny.  I love it!  It might not be pretty, but it works great.

We use the drag chain from early spring through late fall.  Once the temperatures are cold enough that the grasses and clovers aren't growing anymore, we resort back to collecting the manure in a wheelbarrow and hauling it out to the compost pile.  This is much easier and faster to do in the winter, however, because the grass is short, the ground is hard, and the manure piles (which are often frozen) are easy to scoop up.

Here are some pictures of the drag chain my we built and us using it for the last time this season.

Friday, November 18, 2011

We Ate a Rib-eye for Dessert!

In my last post I explained that we recently harvested our first two pasture-raised Black Angus steer. They lived on our lush, green pasture year round, eating grass and clover during the growing season and locally-produced hay in the winter.  They also got a handful of sweet feed in a bucket every day.  We did that so we could easily entice them back if they ever got out of the fence, which they did only once.  All we had to do was shake a bucket with little sweet feed in it and they came running! Because not everyone likes 100% grassfed beef, or even knows how to cook it properly, we finished our beef with a little grain.  That meant that during the last month we fed the steers a one to two pounds of grain each day.  This added some internal fat to the meat, making it naturally tender and juicy.

The steers were processed at Wells, Jenkins, Wells Meats (USDA inspected) in Forest City, NC.  They were such nice people to work with!  There the carcass was aged for two weeks; another secret to ensuring tender, flavorful meat.  Supermarket meat is rarely aged anymore because it is too costly a process.  Our meat was then butchered, vacuum packed, and frozen.

Today we sold our first two quarter-sides of beef.  I was envious that our customers were probably going to enjoy our beef before we did!  We already had a spaghetti dinner planned for the evening, so we ate that, but then celebrated our first sales by grilling a ribeye steak for dessert.  That's a picture of it above.  Oh my!  THAT was a good steak.  A very good steak.  It was juicy, flavorful, tender, and fragrant.  It was the best steak I have eaten in a very, very long time.  It was so good that we decided then and there to have steak for Thanksgiving dinner.  Now I can't wait to sample a roast and the ground beef.

We still have quarters for sale.  If you are interested, please read the post from October 19th for details or just email us at

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Our Locally-Grown, Grass Fed Black Angus Now for Sale!

A recent picture of one of the two steer.

Grass-Fed Angus Beef For Sale
                This is our first year participating in the adventure of locally-produced food, so please join us.  Know where and how your meat was cared for!   We obtained our calves from a large, well-known WNC farm operation which were then gently raised on our small family farm in Etowah, NC.  Our cattle are Black Angus steers, the best for high-quality beef.  They are grass-fed, with no hormones or antibiotics, supplemented with locally-grown hay during the winter and a grain finish (to improve taste and marbling).   The steers are 2 years old and in their prime.

The cattle will be handled at a local USDA-inspected processing facility.  After slaughter, the meat will be hung for two weeks -to age and tenderize before processing.  You won’t get meat from a half-dozen cows from different sources…everything you get will be from one steer.

We are selling by the quarter, but you can buy a quarter, a half or a whole steer!  All cuts will be vacuum-packed and frozen and will be available approximately mid-November for pickup.  We have a typical package (see below), but if you contact us right away (before the actual processing happens) we can have the cuts customized to your wishes.

Typical ¼ steer package:
  • 1” steaks-2 round,  4 Sirloin,  8 T-bone (more or less),  8 Rib-eye,  8 pieces of cube steak
  • Roasts-2 Sirloin tip,  1 shoulder,  2 chuck (center-cut)
  • Other cuts-12 strips of short ribs,  10lbs. of stew meat,  28-30 lbs. of ground beef
Weights prior to butchering are estimates, but the steers should yield at least 100 lb. of meat per ¼.

Many other farms sell by “Hanging Weight” which means what the carcass weighs prior to butchering.  There is always waste, but average recovery of finished meat is about 60% of hanging weight.  So a lower price looks good, but when the waste is figured in, the real price per pound is much greater.  We sell per finished product, so you can better judge what you are paying for.  Since we do not know what the carcass weighs until it is butchered, you may get 100 lbs. or you may get more.  You pay per pound of what your quarter yields, but you only pay for what you get!

Here are some typical meat prices (including sale prices) taken from a local grocery store chain on October 1.  PLEASE NOTE:  This is for “Beef”-NOT for locally-produced, grass-fed Angus beef without hormones and antibiotics and other chemicals used to raise cattle in commercial feed-lots.  We believe that OUR beef is far better than typical commercial beef:

Sirloin steak- $4.78/lb., Rib-eye steak- $10.98/lb., T-bone steak-$12.98/lb., Top round steak $4.78/lb., Cube Steak $4.38/lb.,  Chuck roast- $4.98/lb., Sirloin tip roast- $3.49/lb., Stew Beef $4.28/lb.  

For  our  100% natural, locally-raised, grass-fed,  Black Angus Beef we are asking only  $5.25/lb  for everything!  Steaks, Roasts, Stew meat, ribs and ground meat.   

How to contact us:  
Glen and Jeanine Davis   (828) 243-0806 


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring is Here at Our Tiny Farm!

Our girls produce the best tasting eggs!
It is the second full day of spring and it is a GLORIOUS day!  Warm and sunny, with a gentle breeze.  It doesn't get much better than this.  It is perfect weather for working the soil, planting spring crops, cleaning and repairing equipment, picking up branches, etc. 

We hope to expand our tiny farming operation this season. Hubby has serious back, hip, and shoulder issues to deal with, so it is all about finding what works with what we have to give to the place. Hubby is still working out his plans for the steer; how long to keep them and how to sell the meat.  I'm tending towards getting another season of grass feeding in and using a CSA type arrangement to sell eighths, quarters, and halves. But, the grass-fed beef is his thing. 

One of the decisions I have to make is whether we should get into small-scale commercial egg production or just keep 6 to 8 hens to produce eggs for home use with a little left for bartering.  We've pretty much decided not to do meat birds, but I do enjoy the eggs.  I will put a pencil to paper later this week and figure out how many hens we would need to actually make any money at it.

We do want to increase honey, vegetable, berry, and herb production.  And we need to talk to our daughter about whether she wants to do any flower sales or not.  We are increasing production of asparagus, garlic, potatoes, popcorn, and winter squash this year.

We have signed up to be day vendors at the Mills River Farmers Market on Hwy 280.  Being a day vendor means we won't be there every week.  We are easing into this slowly because we don't want to get in over our heads, especially since I have a demanding full-time job that often has me out nights and weekends.  I would love to include some value-added food products to our sales, but our kitchen would never pass inspection for that purpose (because of the dog and cats), so I might look for a commercial kitchen in the community to use.  I have some wonderful recipes using fresh vegetables and herbs that I would love to share with you.   

Here are some pictures from the past few months on Our Tiny Farm
The steer (or is it "steers"?) battling it out on a sunny winter day.
They are growing up nicely, don't you think?
The animals produce lots of "black gold" for our gardens; management of which is made much easier with a little heavy equipment.
Aged manure was worked into the vegetable garden area in February.
The "Anne" magnolia is beautiful with a heavenly scent (March 22).
The garlic looks good for mid-March; ready for the first side-dressing of organic fertilizer.
Prepping the area for potatoes and peas; we all take turns with the tiller.
The steer enjoying the fresh spring grass!
Daffodil season is almost over.
These girls are going into their 4th season and they are still producing LOTS of eggs!
Our Tennessee Walker is a "mature horse", so we are very cautious in the spring to prevent colic and founder. That means restricting access to the pasture when the grass and clover start growing rapidly.  Like right now. He's not too happy about the situation and will do his best to try to open the paddock gate!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Wow, I have some catching up to do!

My on-line presence seems to be getting away from me!  Between my work and home lives, I (try to) maintain two FB accounts, two Twitter accounts, three websites, and three blogs.  Sometimes things fall through the cracks and obviously this time it was this blog.  So, I'll do a little updating on what's been going on around Our Tiny Farm for the past few months.

We built the steer a manger.  A really big manger!  And it works great.  It's positioned close enough to the fence line that we can just toss the hay over the fence into the manger.  Helps us move through the evening chores with ease (especially welcome on those really cold winter nights).

The horse and donkey are also faring well this winter.  By closing the doors on one side of the barn, they have a cozy place to sleep when the wind is howling.

I attended the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Winston-Salem in early December. We got the first snowfall of the season while we were there.  The snow was really pretty; I took this picture from my hotel room.  And the conference was great, too. 

We've had lots of snow at the farm, too.  It is so beautiful.  Just wish it didn't make getting around so difficult!

We currently live with four cats and a dog in the house.  There is no way to keep up with all the fur these animals shed, but they sure are entertaining.  I just thought this was the cutest shot of three of the felines!

Christmas morning the ground was clear when we went out to do the morning chores.  This is what the front pasture looked like by about 1:00 in the afternoon.  It was truly a "white Christmas"!

Winter evenings are good for cooking yummy meals and creating all kinds of useful crafts.  Right now I'm into knitting and crocheting with soft, hand-dyed yarns.  I crocheted this shawl for my sister-in-law, Bette.  It has lots of mohair in it and is wonderfully warm and cuddly. 

Earlier this month I particpated in the Southeastern Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Savannah where I took this beautiful winter shot by the river.

One of my employees gave me an amaryllis for Christmas.  It bloomed the other day!

So now I'm caught up.  I'll try to do better in the future.