Calvary Christian Academy

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

Christian Cavalry Academy in Ormond Beach took a field trip this summer semester to visit our farm. We’ve never been a field trip destination so we were naturally excited.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

Upon arrival, students and staff were able to view our animals while we cooked and served breakfast casserole and chicken sausages. The kids seemed to enjoy the food greatly and some even expressed surprise at the meat coming from a chicken.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

As food was being eaten, students were brought into the back to view the processing and packaging rooms. My husband led that mini tour while I spoke with students and staff about the farm.

 

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

We made sure everyone had enough to eat and we quickly ran out of sausage.

 

After eating, students were given the opportunity to meet with some of our hens. The students were very gentle and compliant when shown how to hold a hen without scaring them.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

After meeting the hen, my husband took groups of students to view our hydroponic garden. I stayed behind to show other groups of students our goats. We talked about how the plants use water to grow and how we take care of our goats. We discussed milking and cheesemaking briefly.

The students got to meet Willow, my classroom bunny. I was helping handle the rabbit so I was unable to get photographs since I was playing photographer that day.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

We discussed how donkeys are sentry animals and help protect and alert the other animals of intruders.

 

We want to extend our thanks top Cavalry Christian Academy to visiting our farm. We greatly enjoyed getting to share how we live with everyone and educate young minds, at least a little bit, about where food comes from.

 

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Fallen Baby Birds

Hi, everyone! I really want to talk about something that happened recently on our farm that I know some people have experienced, even if they don’t live on a farm. It’s something that really tugs on maternal heart-strings and if one doesn’t know what to do, the scenario becomes quite nerve wrecking quickly.

Baby birds. The fact of the matter is they do fall out of nests. And some of them do indeed die. And it is gut wrenching. Since moving out here my emotional skin towards the circle of life has thickened, but I still cannot get over the loss of a child, even an animal. Even a wild animal.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

This is Taz. He’s a Weimaraner. And he steals babies. He has never hurt a baby animal, but he does take them home. Our first year out here he found a baby softshell. He brought it to the front door and I was able to move it to a safe location away from our huskies.

We’ve had him sit with sick baby goats so they don’t get lonely. He’s very loyal and stays close to anything in distress or ill. When I was nearing the end of both pregnancies, this dog was attached to the hip. When my husband used to work nights and we were alone, Taz would always be by my side and the first to stand guard when he’d come home, only to quickly return to a friendly stance once he knew it was just daddy coming home.

We got him right after my first miscarriage. He was attached to me from day one, but I think that’s just his temperament. He truly feels it’s his duty to help.

He’s also an idiot though and there is no doubt in my mind that he had some part to play in today’s events. I went out into our garage and there’s a small pile of old train tracks we had for trains that toddlers can ride on. My kids are too big for that so it’s just sitting there. I saw wings flutter to the top then just drop down. Next to the pile? Taz. “What the hell did you do?” I asked him and he wagged his tail. Jerk. About thirty minutes earlier I remember him hanging out by some of our trees and a mockingbird striking him. He didn’t even flinch. He just sat there. I hoped the thing could fly as I lifted the train tracks it was trapped in and all it did was hop. Crap. As it was hopping, Taz was trying to herd it back into the garage. Double crap.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

So I scooped the baby bird up. It had its flight feathers, but still some baby fluff. I looked at its face. It looked like a grumpy old man. The chirp it cried out only gave me the final confirmation I needed. Taz had abducted a baby mockingbird. I HATE those things. But, it was a scared baby. I went outside near the trees that Taz likes to hang out under looking for a nest. I was unable to find it. I saw a full-grown mockingbird watching me pretty closely, unusually quiet. I approached one particular tree that agitated the bird. It came swooping toward the tree and landed half a foot from my face. Judging by the size, it could very well have been the mother.

Because I have no shame in talking to animals like they’re humans I scolded the bird “You lost your kid. Seriously? Do you know that if one of the huskies got it, it would be dogfood right now?” The bird chirped angrily at me. I didn’t see a nest. The baby I had was a hopper, but it wouldn’t be long before it took its first flight. There was no way I could provide for its needs, with me being a complete stranger at this stage of its life.

So, what did I do?

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

I brought the bird back to the tree I was hoping the nest was in since mamma bird was angry at me being there.

Then something happened I never saw happen. The baby bird took off out of the tree, fell, then ran to the neighbor’s yard. Mamma bird was even more upset. Taz got worried and watched his baby leave. We’re working to make sure the thing is fed and hopefully he’ll interact with other birds still and take flight. Normally, birds reunite, but I think there was just too much going on and the baby panicked.

I mainly wanted to share this experience because most people think that if they see a baby bird they should leave it alone because the parents will not accept a baby bird that a human has touched. That’s not true, in fact if you know where the nest is you should pick that baby up and return it to its nest.

If you do return a baby bird to its nest know that there’s a good chance that you won’t see a parent return right away. Most birds do not possess the bold demeanor that a mockingbird does and will hide until they’re sure it’s safe, especially if they saw you handle the baby. It doesn’t mean they won’t return though. Resist the urge to keep peeking into the nest. Let mom–and sometimes dad–do the job mother nature intended.

What do you do if you can’t find a nest, especially if the babies clearly don’t have their feathers in yet? This is actually easier than my little runner this morning. They don’t really move. It’s possible they got knocked out by a strong storm or even just wind. If you have a hanging planter, you can take it and create your own little nest. Use natural materials like the parents would. Needles, dried leaves, mulch, etc. will do. Create walls like a nest with the natural material and put the bird–or birds–in it. Hang the new nest as close to where the previous nest may have been as possible and leave them be. Hopefully the parents will find the new nest, especially when the chicks start chirping for food.

In most scenarios, it is best to try to keep the babies with the parents as much as possible. Birds are quite sensitive and even though we mean well, the traumatizing experience of being moved can be enough to kill a young chick. When you find a baby bird, always try to return it home. Resist the urge to take over and care for it like it’s your own. It’s not yours and they’re not the easiest of animals to care for, especially when young.

Hopefully this post was informative and you’ll know the basics of what to do if you ever do find a fallen little one.

Growing up on the Homestead

My husband grew up in close proximity with Amish communities. He was exposed to good food and understanding where food actually comes from. He did not personally work a farm the way that we do now as a family. I grew up with a family dog and store-bought food. We did grow our own vegetables and dabble in herbal medicine, but that was it.

The choice to switch to a homesteading lifestyle was based on our children. We wanted them to eat well, learn empathy, and work hard. When my children talk about their home life in school, the common reactions I hear from other adults range from “That’s amazing” to “That sounds like… a lot.”

It is a lot. And it is nonstop. My daughter failed one of her first small social studies assessments because she argued that people do make their own food today, not “long ago.” The teacher told her that people do not make their own food, they buy it at the store. My daughter was pretty adamant that the teacher was completely wrong. We both had to explain that the general population buys eggs, chicken, and other dairy products from the grocery store. Not everyone makes it or trades with other farms. Despite the fascination or harsh judgements made by other people, our children are growing into–we hope–healthy and enlightened individuals.

Talking about homesteading life often sounds less desirable than it truly is. There are bad days. There are horrendous days. There are scary days. There are breakdown and cry all day while you’re still working days. But most days are good, happy, and fulfilling.

I am going to showcase a compilation of what homesteading life looks like on the best of days because I feel those don’t get talked about enough.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

Homesteading is dandelion wishes.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

Homesteading is finding the occasional fairy egg.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

Homesteading is when new animals stop by your property just to say hi (not our cat).

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Homesteading is hugging a 6 hour old goat.

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Homesteading is homemade remedies and bad handwriting.

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Homesteading is fresh and rejuvenating.

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Homesteading is full of 4 in the morning surprises.

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Homesteading is about more than one family sharing space.

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Homesteading is good food.

I didn’t grow up on a homestead, but we’re very thankful for the opportunity for our children to live this way. They help every way they can. There is a lot of hard work, but there is plenty for them to thoroughly enjoy as well.

Willow

Today, I am going to be a little less serious and a little more fun. Today, I am going to introduce Willow.

I am a teacher. I have been teaching since 2009 and I love it. I started in elementary, did some work with Title I and interventions, then I moved on to middle school, then high school. In 2015 I switched up completely and began teaching special needs life skills in a high school setting. A big change from English and Reading. I instantly fell in love with the environment, staff, and students. I should have made this switch years ago.

So a little over one year ago, our staffing specialist got a hold of me because she had found a guinea pig who needed to be rehomed. I took her into my classroom, hoping she would make a decent classroom pet. We renamed the guinea pig Penny and she was an immediate hit. We all loved her and would even let her roam a bit with small groups. So the next year we were all devastated when she passed away in her sleep. It wasn’t at school, it happened at home.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

So, instead of getting a new guinea pig, I decided to get a baby rabbit. I had done the research on keeping them out of a cage and litter box training them and decided that we could make it work both at home and at school. We picked Willow out because he was the most outgoing, friendly, and calm. We started with an enclosed space so he could get the idea of the litter box, but it didn’t take long until he was enjoying life around the house.

We originally thought Willow was a girl, but found out as he aged that he is actually a boy. He is one of the sweetest pets I have ever had for school or at home. He has his favorite napping spots both in the house and the classroom and he’s social. He is often in the kitchen while I prep for dinner. I give him veggie scraps. He is completely and totally my buddy. He will sit with my son and daughter on the couch. If I am reading, he nudges his way into my lap and will pull on my clothes if he wants to be pet. I never realized a rabbit could be so social.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

He is the best classroom pet. He is very calm with the students and enjoys seeing them. He willingly gets in his crate when it’s time to get in the car to go to school. Students cleared bottom shelves of bookcases out for him to sleep in during the day. When he’s awake he jumps on tables using chairs to visit with kids. They work well in his presence and multi task fine with him. He will even approach a child who is sad or upset for attention and it makes the kids feel important.

During planning, while I work on IEPs, he is always in my space. Whether it’s stealing my chair or making sure he is sleeping at or touching my feet, he is there.

I really felt a need to do a quick intro on him because he is the only pet I have ever had that is just as much involved in my home life as he is in my work life. Penny was my first pet like this, but she didn’t follow me around like this bunny does. He seeks out my company and the company of others and I wasn’t expecting that strong of a bond to be honest. He is excited to see all the staff who work with me and the students. He is a great comfort to our kids who really need that additional emotional support. And really, sometimes, he is a great stress reliever for me at work. I love it when I’m working and he just wants to stay close. Even now, writing this, he is in my lap napping. I didn’t put him there. He just jumped on me and got comfortable.

We’re not raising him for meat and he serves no purpose on our farm. My original intent on getting him was for the kids, but he’s become quite a special little guy to me. He is with me more hours out of the day than any animal I have ever had in my life, being attached to me both at work and at home. He shared a very long week with me and completely deserves a blog post dedicated to him for being there and involved every step of the way.

It’s amazing how close to your heart these little critters can be.  We love him.

Want to see what other animals we have on the farm? Click here to see everyone.

When Healthy Eating Backfires

I visit various areas of solicitude when my mind wanders. When I reflect on our state as a society I come across several areas of concern, one of them being society’s attitude and handling of food. The need for instant gratification combined with a lack of knowledge–or caring in some instances–on where food actually comes from in today’s world creates a battleground full of controversy and ill-informed decisions made with good intent.

Ask a young child where food comes from and, for the most part, you’ll find the answer revolves around a grocery store. Further probing may reveal that the child knows meat comes from animals, eggs from chickens, milk from cows and goats, fruit and vegetables from plants, etc. And even the ones that know this, may not understand this. The two don’t always coincide, even with adults.

Ask a young adult where food comes from and they answer with a little more confidence, truly believing they understand the whole concept of a farm growing produce and raising animals. Because really, the image they have of a farm probably reflects our farm on a larger scale.

In reality, the majority of our food comes from factory farms. Clever advertisements on some of the products these companies sell depict houses sporting the stereotypical farmhouse or fresh green pastures. Happy animals are seen on logos, sometimes outside in said green pasture imagery.

Visit a chicken factory farm and you find close quarter living arrangements. Chickens end up with little room to wander and forage as nature intended, which also means chicken waste ends up on other chickens and in their living space. This results in birds that suffer from respiratory infections caused by injured mucous membranes. Injured mucous membranes (caused by the ammonia the chickens can’t escape) makes it easier for bacteria and viruses to enter the chicken’s lungs and air sacs. Chickens poo everywhere. It’s not so much of an issue if there isn’t overcrowding and they’re pasture raised. Take a factory farm setting where there’s barely room to move and you get some pretty sick poultry. Which is why we see an increased level of antibiotics being used, overused, and misused. It’s more profitable than to house chickens correctly.

Some factory farms are partaking in “movements” by opening windows to the barns the chickens are housed in, or making sure the lights are out at night. That’s a start, but the birds need to be out. It’s in their nature to scratch and forage for food. That brings me to another “improvement” where many companies boast about their feed. Again, great, but access to fresh grass and produce is vital, too, as well as bugs. I’ve seen my chickens eat small snakes even.

This is not something that can easily be done. The demand for food is partly responsible for the birth of the factory farm. So even large-scale farms don’t have the room. Be wary of your labels; if it says free range, that’s SOME outside time–in pens with several other chickens. An improvement, yes, but still unacceptable.

All of our birds are pasture raised and are socialized with people. They are not afraid of were they live and have access to forage all day, take dust baths as they see fit, and socialize. Yes, the birds socialize. They have their own group of friends they even hang out with. This is how domesticated chickens (and other birds) should live.

This background information leads up to my actual rant about food contamination. These birds are living in the very thing that is responsible for outbreaks of salmonella, Listeria, and e. coli. Poop. Your meat chickens are living in it. Your egg laying hens are sitting in it. Our chickens naturally do not lay eggs where they use the bathroom. They have the space to lay, roam, forage, and do their business.

The big foodborne illnesses we hear about on a consistent basis lives in the gut of these animals. If they’re not allowed the space to respond to nature’s call, contamination and harsh cleaning processes take place, neither of which are beneficial for anyone.

Dairy and other cattle factory farms are not much different. Antibiotics are the response to overcrowded living conditions instead of happy, healthy environments. In fact, over half of the antibiotic use is for agricultural purposes. The antibiotic use is abuse (I understand that’s technically my opinion) because it’s used as a preventative, which is not the intended idea behind the antibiotic. So even families who actively make it a point to avoid overusing antibiotics for something like the common cold, are still being exposed to the overuse of antibiotics into their systems. Cows are also given Bovine Growth Hormone to produce even more milk (even though the cows are kept pregnant, birthing, or milking with little to no break in between).

We do not have a cow (yet). Once we expand more we will be looking into getting a cow. Right now, we do have have a herd of miniature donkeys and mixed breed goats. They are pasture raised as well. We have grown to have two males for breeding and two different milking pairs. One pair will be pregnant and lactating, while the other pair will have a break so their bodies can recover. Antibiotics are only used if the animal is sick (we wait for it to be out of their system before milk is used) and no growth hormones are added. They’re social animals so they’re also allowed the right to socialize, grow, and spend time with their family (human and animal alike). This is how it should be.

With all of that information, it’s no wonder we get so sick. That’s not the surprising part though. What’s surprising is more foodborne illnesses come from fresh vegetables. I think this is a really big eye opener for how our food is handled. Our meats are exposed to the same contamination (Listeria, salmonella, e. coli), but the antibiotic “preventative” and harsh cleaning procedures hide this. You’re eating dirty meat that has been washed with chlorine.

So, why vegetables? Well, in an attempt to be healthier many people are seeking fresh produce. Makes sense as quite a few veggies are healthier when consumed raw and salads are a great way to pack in essential nutrients when you’re being health conscious and are short on time. It makes sense. I get it. Although fresh produce is also washed with water and chlorine, the leafy greens you’re hearing about on the news likely wasn’t cooked. Because who cooks their lettuce? Water that is contaminated and used to wash vegetables could be a source for foods carrying these bacteria, especially if it’s exposed to any fecal matter or fertilizers. Which also means water used to clean your chicken could also be contaminated, but heating foods to proper temperatures can sometimes help with that nasty fact.

A clean environment is the best preventative to these illnesses. Our hydroponic produce is separated from our animals and clean water is used on them.

It is near impossible–unless I’m not seeing it–to break free from this. Growing your own food and raising small family homesteads is becoming a lost art and we can’t let people starve. The best way to avoid this is to have your own garden and your own meat, but that’s not a viable option for everyone. Your next best bet is purchasing locally, a little easier to do with produce than meat. Check out local markets and talk to vendors. There are smaller establishments that make sure their animals are living healthy and happy lives.

We’re not meant to be cooped up, although many people force themselves to live like some animals on these factory farms: eat, sit on the couch all day, stay indoors, sleep. It’s not good for us. It makes sense that it’s also not good for these animals and it affects our food. Factory farms are in this for profit and to fill that high demand. People don’t realize that’s where their food comes from. And it gets worse. Any meals, canned soups, processed foods you purchase at the store get their meat and produce from these factory farms.

Grow more edible plants at home if it’s possible. Shop local. Take baby steps. We’re trying our best as well. We just got to where we have a pretty steady meat source for us. I cannot remember the last time we went to the grocery store for meat or produce. What we don’t grow, we purchase or trade from local farms. We’re taking baby steps, too, but we’re getting there.

What steps do you take to truly know the source of your food? What do you recommend for other people looking to educate themselves in food handling and appropriate animal raising?

Leave comments below and remember to follow us to get updates on our blog and/or meat processing that we do. Thanks for reading, everyone.