Friday, July 5, 2013

Our family farm.

My family spent our 4th of July processing 120 chickens. Yeah...we're a bit strange compared to the average American family. Wow, how's that for a weird way to start off a post? :)

{In all fairness, the only reason we processed yesterday instead of today like planned was that the family friend who helps us was off from work yesterday and not today. So it made more sense to switch days. And after the work was done, we did have a nice evening. We grilled out for supper and then I spun some yarn while watching an old movie, so it was a relaxing end to the day.}

The truth is that I've been trying to write about our farm and such for a couple of weeks now, and it's just hard to know where to start. I've never really written about all of this before, so it feels like there's a lot to cover!

My family was pretty normal until I was about fourteen or fifteen. :) My dad was a UPS man and my mom was an aide on a handicap bus. Me and my brother were in public school. Every day, I got off the school bus and came inside to do my homework while eating supper: usually popcorn chicken or pizza rolls with a can of Mountain Dew.

We've always lived in the country, about half an hour from a couple smallish cities. My dad and uncle owned an 80 acre farm that had once belonged to my great-grandparents. It had been sold out of the family years before, but they bought it again when they had the chance. While I was growing up, my uncle usually had some cows and a few horses, my dad had a horse, and my parents usually raised a few vegetables or helped my grandpa with his garden. That was about the extent of my experience with farm animals or farming.

Then, all of a sudden, a lot of things changed at once. I met a new friend who was homeschooled, and I started talking to my parents about how I'd like to try that, too. (I was one of those geeky kids who always liked schoolwork and learning and buying new school supplies, but even in the 8th grade, I was already sick of the profanity and disrespect to adults and drama I was seeing every day in public school.) When I was fourteen and getting ready to start high school, my mom quit her job on the bus and started homeschooling me and my younger brother. That fall when my cousin's wife went back to work after maternity leave, Mom also started babysitting their little boy. Our first year of homeschooling and we also had a three month old in the house...yeah, that was a crazy time. :) Pretty soon after that, my grandma was getting to the point that she couldn't stay by herself anymore. The children started taking a week at a time to stay with her at her house, so during my dad's week of the month we basically lived at my grandma's (just up the road from our house). Me and Mom came home for the night, but during the day we brought along our schoolbooks and the baby, and that added a little more to the craziness. :)

I said all of that to say this...while all that was happening, we also started farming. I can't even remember how it started really, I guess because of everything else that was going on at the time. For a few years, my dad was working his public job and farming. Then he was able to retire from UPS and farm full time.

I really wish I could remember what my reaction was when my dad said, "Hey! Guess what? We're going to start raising and slaughtering our own chickens!"

I don't remember what came first. Probably laying hens. I know we started off with four Barred Rock hens and a few roosters (they got kind of aggressive and didn't last very long). Somewhere around that time, someone gave us three goat kids. They were triplets and their mom wouldn't feed them. So we had three adorable baby goats: Lucy, Todd, and Bam. {I named Lucy after Lucy Ricardo. Mom named Todd after Todd Agnew. My brother named Bam after some skateboarder goober he was into at the time.} We had to bottle feed them every few hours, and while they were small we kept them in the brooder house. Since we had the brooder house at that time, that means we'd probably already started raising broiler chickens to process and sell. It's all kind of a blur now. :)

{Technically, I guess the vineyard was what really came first. My dad and uncle had eight acres of grapes, the first of which were planted when I was really 8 or 10? So we had that while I was growing up, long before we had chickens or anything. Now we only have a small portion of the original acreage, just enough grapes for us to use and maybe some to sell to individuals.}

Dad read all lots of nonfiction books and farm magazines and got all sorts of ideas for farmy things. He built the brooder houses, the moveable Hen-Mobiles, the rolling pens that the broilers are raised in, etc. He bought a used scalder and plucker and a big metal sink/counter for us to use for processing chickens.

We started realizing that raising your own food was so much better and healthier than trusting the USDA to provide you with "good" food at the grocery store. :)

Please know that I'm not pointing any fingers or trying to make you feel bad if you buy food from the grocery store! It's just pretty frightening that the majority of Americans have no idea what they're really eating. They don't know how it was grown or raised and have no connection to where their food comes from. Some people just assume that the grocery store wouldn't sell you food that's not good for you. If you haven't seen the documentary Food, Inc., I highly recommend checking it out.

Chickens shouldn't be kept by the thousands in buildings, living in their own waste and never seeing the outdoors. Laying hens shouldn't be raised in a space so tiny they don't have room to move around. Cows and pigs shouldn't be fed grain and injected with hormones to fatten them up so that Walmart has more meat to sell. Fruits and vegetables shouldn't be sprayed down with chemicals and pesticides. Basically, America's agriculture scene is pretty messed up right now.

*whew* Rant over. :)

We've been doing this for so long now that I forget that we're the minority and not the majority. I forget that most people buy chicken at the store, instead of seeing the whole process from baby chick to cleaned and packaged bird.

My family believes that farmers of the past were doing things right. We believe in raising our animals out in pastures and letting them forage and eat what they're supposed to be eating. Our animals are pastured/free ranged/grass fed: whatever you want to call it. We're not certified organic, but our farm has been chemical free for years now. This isn't just healthier...the food tastes better, too. :) Which is always a plus.

So, however we got started, this is what's going on with the farm now...

We raise broilers, which are chickens for meat. They're fully grown (averaging 4-5 pounds) in eight weeks. We get them (through the postal service!) when they're two days old and fluffy baby chicks. No, they are not cute and fluffy eight weeks later when we process them. Processing day (the nice name for it) isn't exactly the most wonderful day of the month, but it's just something that has to be done. We usually process approx. 95 birds once a month. We start early that morning and by lunch time we're finished with the killing and cleaning. After lunch, we go back out and package them all in shrink-wrapped bags with our farm label, and they're ready to sell. Of course, we always keep enough for us, too. :) I can't remember the last time we bought chicken at the store. We also have laying hens...probably about fifty-five. Right now we're averaging about 35 eggs a day.

Chickens are what we've raised the longest. But now we raise pork and lamb, too. We usually have a few pigs at a time...besides the meat we keep, some of it is packaged to sell separately (sausage, pork chops, etc.), and some customers buy a quarter or half of a pig at a time to have enough meat for the year. The lamb is packaged separately to sell, too: ground lamb, different types of chops, leg of lamb, etc. With quite a few babies being born each year, there's now a flock of about 70 sheep (counting new babies). Unfortunately for me, they're all St. Croix hair sheep...there isn't a single wool sheep in the bunch. Yet. :) *hint hint*

We started off with the three goat we have eleven goats. Dad milks several of them every morning. Yes, we use goats milk. Raw goats milk. *gasp* Horror of horrors! It isn't pasteurized! :) The milk gets filtered into jars, cooled down in ice water, and then put in the refrigerator. People are never quite sure how to react to goats milk. We went to several farm-related events this spring, and Dad would offer goat milk samples to people. The first reaction was usually a wrinkled nose. But after trying it..."It just tastes like milk!" :) We use goats milk for cooking, baking, and drinking. It's illegal to sell raw milk in Virginia (go figure), so we offer milk shares.

We also have a vegetable garden. My parents have always raised a garden for us, but this year we've started selling some of the produce, too. We sell all of our products at the local farmer's market every week during the season, but we also sell from the house, too. Oh, and my dad started keeping bees a couple of years ago. So this is the second year we've had our own honey.

I think that's everything. This whole natural farming lifestyle thing is a slippery slope, you guys. :)

I'm not saying that we don't go to the grocery store or that we never, ever let processed food pass our lips. We eat out every once in a while (I usually end up getting chicken. Because somehow the idea of the processed beef grosses me out more than the idea of processed chicken. I'm not sure why). I still have a major sweet tooth and haven't figured out a way to satisfy my chocolate cravings without the grocery store.

But things are different now. I've learned so much, and I think about things more. I think about what's in store-bought food and what artificial ingredients I want to avoid. More and more often we eat meals and one of my parents will point out that almost everything on our plates was raised on our farm. And that's pretty neat.

So...that's the story of how my family went from typical American family to farmy, homeschooling, hippie weirdos. :) I'm only half joking about that.

I know this post was mostly about food, but this way of thinking creeps into other areas, too. Like...if I'm trying not to ingest nasty chemicals, why am I going to use shampoo and deodorant and toothpaste and such that includes them? Originally, that was going to be part of this post, too, but I think this is long enough as it is. So in a couple of days, I'll have a post about natural beauty products. :)

I hope you guys enjoyed learning a bit more about my family and what we do. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments!

P.S. If you want to learn a bit more about the farm or see more photos, you can check out the farm blog here. My dad would probably be really thrilled if you followed it. :)

Until next time,


  1. And ALL THAT is why your dad is my husband's mentor. We love you guys!

    BTW, I love the new farm blog! Great job!

  2. First off, I think it's awesome that your family spent the 4th of July processing chickens. Historically, it really does sound like a very American thing to do. :D I wish that I could watch you guys (and help!) on a processing day ('cuz there's only so much YouTube videos can do towards teaching a person how to eviscerate certain feathered animals *ahem*). We got our first laying hens last spring and ended up butchering two of the roosters in the fall. Since it was our first time, we didn't know exactly what we were doing and definitely have room for improvement before (hopefully) getting meat birds next year.

    The philosophy of food (and how it should be raised) that you explained in this post is scarily similar (read: exactly the same) to my own. Something that I find especially crazy is that so few Christians care about this subject and usually leave agricultural and environmental things like this to unbelievers, when we – of all people – should be the best stewards of this earth!

    I would love, love, LOVE to have a farm similar to your family's! Right now – still living at home with my family – I only have about ½ an acre to work with, so we just have chickens and a garden (which is kind of pitiful because of our ridiculously short Rocky Mountain growing season). But someday, Lord willing, I hope to find a man with a similar Christian/agrarian/home-educating/book-loving mindset with whom I can build the natural and sustainable farm set-up of my dreams. :D That isn't too much to ask for, is it?! If that ever miraculously happens, I should be somewhat prepared by all the material I've read (primarily Joel Salatin... because he's awesome) to jump more fully down that slippery natural slope. :D

    Anyway, I really enjoyed reading about your family's natural farming/homeschooling/food-awareness journey, Kristin! Thanks so much for taking the time to share it!

    1. It's nice to know that there are other people out there my age who feel the same way about this! :)

      I don't think it's too much to ask for...I think about the same thing myself. :) Sometimes I think about how hard it is to find godly guys anyway, but to meet one who agrees with (or at least puts up with) all of my weird opinions? Hm. I think it would be miraculous, as you say. :)


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