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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Homesteading is dandelion wishes.

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Homesteading is finding the occasional fairy egg.

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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.

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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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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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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.

Eggs–What’s Going On?

This is going to be a dual purposed post. We’re going to be exploring eggs and the different birds we have who lay eggs as well as their contribution to healthy balanced meal. In light of recent news spreading on social media about all this different food (not just eggs) being recalled due to e. coli or salmonella, I felt there was a need to explore how this happens and why we’re seeing several recalls from pretty large distributors of this food.

Let’s start off light. Eggs are generally fantastic. Different eggs have different nutritional values and although all of the eggs we sell are edible, I do use them for other purposes.

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We’re going to go over chicken, duck, and goose eggs.

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Pictured above are the various types of chicken eggs we use and sell from our farm. I love gathering them because they’re just so pleasing to the eye. Aren’t they gorgeous? I cannot get over just looking at them. When I have to cook several I also use as varied colors as possible. It makes no difference in taste. I just can’t help it. I use chicken eggs very frequently. If I am cooking eggs just to eat, this is the egg I use because I am a rare breed of person who cannot handle duck or goose eggs. We’ll go more into that later though. One of my favorite quick meals to do at home is omeletts. We have eggs from our chickens, often homemade cheese, and fresh produce from our garden. So it’s all very quick, delicious, and healthy.

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Ducks are fun creatures. We have mostly Pekin and we have two types of layer personalities. We have the “leave them where they drop” layers and the “I might want to be a mother some day, but I’m unsure” layers. Duck eggs that are isolated and/or in weird out in the open areas are the “leave them where they drop.”  The picture above is the “kinda-sorta-maybe-wannabe-mama.” She does what nature says she should do. She gathers the eggs (in this case, a perfect circle) and she gets the eggs dirty to try to blend in with the environment. This is an important task because it allows the eggs to stay camouflaged when the duck leaves to eat, drink, and wash. We have only ever had one broody duck. All of my others, even after beginning what looks like a nest, quit pretty quickly. In fact, my one broody girl isn’t even a Pekin. She is an Appleyard mix. Duck eggs have more nutritional value than chicken eggs. This is how they contrast in daily value percentages (keep in mind, there is no way this can be EXACT because eggs are created in different sizes and sometimes shapes):

Chicken Egg Duck Egg
Iron (mg) .9 (5%) 2.7 (15%)
Phosphorous (mg) 95.5 (10%) 154 (15%)
Zinc (mg) .6 (4%) 1 (7%)
Selenium (mcg) 15.8 (23%) 25.5 (36%)
Vitamin A (IU) 244 (5%) 472 (9%)
Vitamin E (mg) .5 (2%) .9 (5%)
Thiamin/Vitamin B1 (mg) .02 (2%) .1 (7%)
Riboflavin/Vitamin B2 (mg) .2 (14%) .3 (17%)
Vitamin B6 (mg) .1 (4%) .2 (9%)
Folate/Vitamin B9 (mcg) 23.5 (6%) 56 (14%)
Vitamin B12 (mcg) .6 (11%) 3.8 (63%)
Pantothenic Acid/Vitamin B5 (mg) .7 (7%) 1.3 (13%)
Choline (mg)* 126 184
Total Omega-3s (mg)* 37 71.4
Total Protein (grams)* 6.28 8.97

*No current daily value percentage.

Click here to view the nutritional value chart this is adapted from and read further on.

Duck eggs are also great for baking cake and bread items. The extra fat in the yolk and extra protein in the whites help create a fluffier baked good.

Most people who have difficulty consuming chicken eggs can enjoy duck eggs with no issues.

People who are allergic to chicken eggs can sometimes consume duck eggs without problems. This can also be true the other way around. My family loves duck eggs. They are richer and pack more nutrients than chicken eggs. I love them, and although I can and do bake with them, I cannot eat just duck eggs. Within 30 minutes I am severely ill and trying to keep myself hydrated, with no success–if you catch my meaning. It’s very sad.

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Goose eggs! These are so cool! They’re huge! They’re around 266 calories per egg, with almost 20 g of protein. And you generally only need one for an omlette.

Now onto a serious topic. April has been hell on recalled food items, including eggs.

We’ve seen it on social media and other resources like the National Food Safety Foundation. The FDA posted details about the egg recall here.

Many people believe that they are less likely to get ill from a store-bought egg than buying from local farms or homesteads. The treatment factory farm eggs and hens is not how we handle our eggs and hens, and with several good reasons.

Just to sum up this article, chicken fecal matter is a huge cause for concern. Birds kept in cages all day, with nowhere to go, end up crapping where they lay. Without proper attention, eggs can be contaminated. Egg shells are porous, but do have a protective bloom. However, if it’s sitting in crap all day, the ammonia will eat through it.

People buy “free range” eggs thinking they’re getting better eggs, but they’re really not. “Free range” is not the same as “pasture raised.” Free range birds have outside access to food and water, but it’s still a relatively small enclosure, shared with hens.

Pasture raised eggs the chickens are actually out and about. We are pasture raised. The hens have shelter, and they use it at night or to lay eggs, but they have free access. We don’t actually lock them up in their enclosures, unless there’s a hurricane coming. They are outside. Although they’re fed and given water, they have access to plants, bugs, small reptiles and amphibians, fish (the ducks and geese hunt and eat these), and leftover produce. They get exercise and have opportunities to socialize with their friends (yes, they have their own groups they hang out with).

Then there’s the cleaning process these industrialized farms use. An egg that has not been sitting in shit all day and has not been washed can stay on the counter for a couple of weeks (they never last that long here–they’re too yummy). They don’t need to be kept cool unless you need to keep them for long-term or you wash that protective bloom off. Factory farms use chemicals, such as chlorine, to “clean” the eggs. This also means, since the shell is porous, that the chemicals then enter the egg as well. During the harsh cleaning process, if the eggs are not totally dry in the end, bacteria thrives and can penetrate the shell as well because the bloom is gone.

We have had an increase of consumers seeking us out to purchase eggs after getting sick from store bough eggs recently. Truth is, most people handle salmonella well if they’re generally healthy. They’ll fall very ill, but most recover. Anyone with compromised immune systems, or the elderly and young, are most affected and can die. Even without salmonella, long-term exposure to the chemicals used in cleaning the eggs from factory farms is harmful. And I cannot imagine any of my birds, even the ones raised for meat, being kept in such harsh and stressful conditions. It’s understood that these birds have a clear purpose for humans, but it does not mean that their lives should be that dreadful. Whether they’re living for eight weeks or five years, it’s unacceptable.

We’re happy to see an increase in others doing their own research and making their own decisions in purchasing food. Knowing where your food comes from is so important. Raising happy and healthy animals, even if it’s just for food, matters.

Want to learn more about the animals we have on the farm? Click out here.

Meet the Crew!

When we first moved out into the country, I was more excited about the idea of NOT being a part of an HOA than building up a homestead. Before moving out here, we already had a decent hydroponics set up and I was perfectly content with just improving our produce.

We began buying local farm fresh eggs from other homesteaders. If you have never tried a fresh egg versus a grocery store egg, you simply have no idea what you’re missing out on. And if you are anything like me, eggs are life. Fresh eggs turned into fresh eggs AND raw dairy products. Fresh eggs and raw dairy products turned into fresh eggs, raw dairy products, AND homemade goat’s milk soap. You get the idea. When we would go to the market to purchase these weekly needs, we would stop by the local Tractor Supply.

Well, one day they had chicks and ducklings. I HAD to have ducklings. my husband wanted chicks. You had to buy a minimum of two ducklings and/or a minimum of six chicks. We went home, talked about it, then built a brooder for future babies.

Fast forward a couple of years and we went from two ducks and six chickens, to processing meat birds on a consistent basis, ten ducks, several free range (REAL free range) laying hens, a few roosters, four geese, eight goats, and two miniature donkeys. Each animal has a purpose (other than being loved). Here are just a few of our lovely farm members:

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The geese and their new goslings.

This is Brownie. She is around four years old. We had originally bought her daughter when she was two hours old with the understanding that her daughter would be coming home with us at 6 months old. About a month later, the farm contacted us saying the mother would be for sale and we could go pick them both up that day. We really liked the idea of keeping them together so we picked both of them up that weekend.

This is Merida, Brownie’s daughter. Although she is calming down quite a bit now, she has the complete opposite personality to Brownie’s. Brownie is very reserved, but seeks the attention of those she knows. Merida is very curious about everyone and everything. That may change as she ages, but everyone loves it right now.

Donkeys are sentry animals. Their purpose on the farm is to protect everyone else. Their presence is enough of a deterrent to dogs, coyotes, and bobcats. We haven’t had missing birds since we got them.

And they FREAK out over mice… every mouse the donkeys have seen has been squished.

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Some of our birds. This is their favorite hangout place.

Jerky McJerkface Jaime. Jaime and I have a love and hate relationship. This is our oldest accidental rooster. We got him and his sister from a 4H group. He was just done with physical rehab. He actually would have died if nature was allowed to take its course, but the kids were bonded so they tried everything they could and he made it. We were told they were both hens. So, we named on Cersei and this one Jaime because of the limp he had (Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones lost his hand and “Jaime” is unisex, so it was perfect). Jaime turned out to be a boy. One day he started crowing. Jaime has these humongous spurs. Around once every three months he bats his wings at me and charges. I just kind of kick him back and he backs up. One day he got me and I responded like I always do. I was irate so I swore a bit and kicked him back. Our normal. Until I started to walk. It’s comical now thinking back on it. I was by myself and when I took a step I wobbled and I said aloud, to myself “That’s not right” and I fell. I looked at my leg and there was a giant pool of blood. I went into the barn and took a minute to mentally prepare myself for what I was about to witness, immediately thinking of all of my first aid equipment I was going to need (it was really starting to hurt at this point). I pulled back my pant leg and it was such an embarrassment. I had the tiniest hole in my knee. He stabbed me! Long story short, it never got infected and I couldn’t alternate steps on the stairs for a month. He is the best rooster for our girls though. I have seen him chase off snakes and squirrels for them and he respects all the other roosters and our male goose. I’m sure part of it is because no one wants to mess with him, but he really is a good jerk rooster.

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Meet some of the goats!

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This is Lyris. She was one of our first goats and is a Nigerian Dwarf. She loves to nibble on everything, but is very sweet and loves everyone.

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This is Sally, our first goat who is also a Nigerian Dwarf. She is very calm and loves nothing more than to be close to the people she loves.

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I love my Lulu. She is a mini Lamancha (Lamancha mixed with Nigerian Dwarf). She rubs against me and gives me kisses. She is also my best dairy goat. She has a grace with everything. She kids quickly, has never had health issues, has no issues letting people handle her kids. She is great and we love her dearly.

This is Darth Vader, Lulu’s son. We are keeping him for breeding purposes so we don’t have to have some of our girls travel for breeding. He’s very sweet and loves to cuddle.

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This is Pixie-Rey, Lulu’s daughter. Our daughter named her Rey (from Star Wars), but I felt like she looked very spritely so she got the name Pixie-Rey. She is dainty, quiet, and loves to be held. She will also be staying with us so we can have alternating milking pairs.

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This is Buttercup and she doesn’t sit still for pictures well. She is a mini Nubian (Nubian mixed with Nigerian Dwarf). She is one of our dairy goats, though Lulu has her beat in milk production. Buttercup is more reserved until you’re alone with her on the milk stand. Then she really kind of opens up to whoever is handling her. She loves to have her head scratched.

This is Leia, Buttercup’s daughter. We’re keeping her for future milking. This girl is very attached to me. She cannot stand the others getting love from me and will make every effort to get my attention any chance she gets.

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This handsome boy is Snoopy. He is another one who is very attached to people and he will follow my husband like a dog. I love his coloring and he will be used for breeding as well.

Some of our ducks. Ducks eggs are actually great for baking.

A teacher at my kids’ school hatched eggs and needed to find a new home for her chicks. We took them home.

We love our farm life and I especially love coming home to “work” with the animals. It may be a lot of work, but it is very therapeutic as well.