This week marks the one year anniversary of moving to our farm, the Bauernhof Kitsteiner.

It has been busy. It’s been exciting. We’ve had successes. We’ve had failures. We have had sad times. We have had a lot of fun.

I am going to go through each of the projects we have taken on this year and provide an evaluation of each one.

 

SHEEP

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One of my sons with our flock of Katahdin Hair Sheep.

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This is me with one of our new sheep.

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This is me with our first lambs born at the farm, twin boys!

Overview:
We have a small flock of Katahdin Hair Sheep. We started with 10 ewe lambs. We lost one early on to an unknown injury/illness. We were able to borrow a Katahdin ram from a neighbor, and so far, 7 of our 9 ewes have delivered. We had 3 ewe lambs and 5 ram lambs delivered with no complications and no need for bottle-feeding. There was one set of twins.

Lessons Learned:
Our ewes range from medium to small in size. This is directly due to less-than-ideal genetics. If we would have taken some time to visit a few other flocks, we would have quickly been able to see that these sheep were pretty small compared to breed standard. But these sheep were local and easy to obtain, they have all been great mothers so far, and they have performed well on our poor pastures. So far, this has been a good start for us… but I still wish we had bigger sheep!

Moving Forward:
We have 7 proven ewes. We have 2 that may be pregnant  (the ram visited on two different occasions, so they still have a shot). We have internally increased our flock by 3 ewes. We are also adding 8 more ewe lambs (from larger-sized genetics!) this month, so this will bring our flock up to 20 ewes. Our goal is to have 40-50 ewes on our farm. They seem to be performing well on our land. Things are moving well with our sheep.

 

PIGS

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Our pigs snuggled together on a cool morning.

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Our Guineas jump right in with the pigs during feeding time. All the animals love the fermented grains!

Overview:
We have a small herd of heritage breed pigs. We currently have 5 females. These are 1 American-Guinea Hog mix, 2 Vietnamese Potbelly Pigs, 1 Gloucester Old Spot-Large Black-Mulefoot Hog mix, and 1 Gloucester Old Spot-Large Black-Berkshire Hog mix. We have a young, unproven Gloucester Old Spot boar who should be sexually mature any day now. In addition, we have 2 castrated male American-Guinea Hogs which we will be processing this coming Autumn.

Lessons Learned:
I love pigs! But they can be hard on the land. If the pigs are left too long in an area, then they will make a wallow. This is not a bad thing, it’s just a pig thing. It can be bad if we didn’t want a wallow where they made one. But it can be great if we use their earth-moving tendencies to help us till the land before we use it for something else. With pigs, it is all about timing. If they are in one place for more than a few days, especially if it is wet (rain, lowlands, etc.), then they will start to really till the land. Some people will place rings in the pigs’ nose, but we have not chosen to do this at this point. The pigs have been tilling the area where we will be placing our forest garden and annual garden.

Moving Forward:
Our long term goal is to raise pigs in a savanna-style system… grass in the Spring and Summer and then fatten them on nuts (mast) that fall from our oaks, hickories, and walnuts in our forest in the Autumn. We are also planting many apple and chestnut trees on our property for ourselves and our pigs. We still need to get our fencing systems set up in the forest to implement the full plan.

 

LAYER CHICKENS

We keep a flock of laying hens that produce eggs for us and for sale.

We keep a flock of laying hens that produce eggs for us and for sale.

Our chickens came next. We used Salatin-style chicken tractors to disperse the sheep and pig manure. They also ate more grass and gave their own fertilizer.

Our layer chickens are mostly free-ranged.

Our EggMobile!

We do provide a nightly, mobile coop for our layers

Overview:
We have a mixed flock of free-ranging, laying chickens with about 45 hens. We have Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires, Ameraucanas, Buff Orpingtons, and a single Golden-Laced Polish. The birds are moved around the property in a mobile coop. We are averaging 36-40 eggs a day.

Lessons Learned:
I have read that chickens will take a grassy area down to bare dirt, and so we decided to run our chickens after our pigs to prepare our garden area. Yes, they did take down some of the grass, but not all of it and not very fast. We eventually put up a poultry net around the coop to prevent them from ranging too far. I am sure if I left the chickens in the same spot for a longer time, they would eventually take it down to bare earth. But as we were waiting for this to occur, our egg quality and numbers declined. Our yolks became more pale, and our daily number of eggs (which was really quite good) decreased. We eventually took down the poultry netting and let the chickens go back to free-ranging. We also initially kept our roosters, but they were not really fond of our small children. The roosters never really bothered me. I think they either saw me as alpha or as a non-threat. Unfortunately, they ended up attacking everybody else who visited the coop. We were really not happy to do it, but our goal is a no-stress farm. Roosters randomly attacking people living or visiting the farm is actually pretty high-stress. So the roosters had to go. Finally, a word about chicken poop! We installed a half-inch hardware cloth (wire mesh) on the floor, but it catches everything and prevents it from falling through the mesh. We will need to replace it with a larger mesh in the near future.

Moving Forward:
Our coop can house about 75 birds, so we are going to increase our chicken egg production by adding some additional layers. We just received some Colombian Wynadottes, and we will be adding some Cuckoo Marans and Speckled Sussex in a few weeks. We will continue to run the layer chickens after the pigs and sheep as these animals are rotated around the property.

 

BROILER CHICKENS

We run Salatin-style chicken tractors.

We run Salatin-style chicken tractors.

A view of our farm in Bulls Gap, TN

A view of our farm in Bulls Gap, TN

Overview:
Last year we ran 200 fast-growing, Cornish-Rock Cross broiler chickens in two Joel Salatin-style chicken tractors. We processed the chickens at our farm between 8-9 weeks of age. We sold about half of the chickens and used the rest for ourselves.

Lessons Learned:
This is a fast turnaround farm product. We had no problem selling our pasture-raised, organic-fed chickens. In fact, we had to limit our sales so that we could actually eat some our own chickens! The meat was outstanding. These birds grow fast and grow large. The only way to make any money raising broiler chickens is to process them ourselves. But this is a lot of work. We processed 100 broilers a day on two very long days about 2 months apart. More hands make the work significantly better, but if you need to pay for those hands, your profit drops. I wanted to save the livers and gizzards of as many birds as I could. Personally, I love organ meat, and when it comes from animals raised the way we raise them, I think the organ meat is extremely healthy. But if you want to keep the liver intact, you need to be a lot more careful during the evisceration process. This really slows down the process. I watched many videos of Joel Salatin eviscerating his chickens, and I am amazed at his speed. I work well with my hands, but I probably need a few thousand more birds before I get at fast as Joel.

Moving Forward:
We are increasing our broilers from 200 to 300 this year. This is not a huge increase. But we really want to improve our process. We are implementing Small and Slow Solutions and Applying Self-Regulation and Accepting Feedback. We don’t want to burn out with this great system.

 

DUCKS

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A Rouen male (drake).

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An immature Rouen drake (male) on the left and a hen (female) on the right.

Overview:
We started with 30 Rouen Ducks. We ordered a straight run (meaning they would give us unsexed birds). We ended up with about 10 females and 20 males. We initially ordered the ducks for a few reasons. One of my sons is allergic to chicken eggs, and it appeared that he was not allergic to duck eggs. Unfortunately, his allergy eventually extended to duck eggs as well. Bummer! The second reason was we were considering selling the duck eggs, but we wanted to test the market a bit first. The third reason is that I like duck meat. Finally, we have three ponds on our property, and I thought ducks may be a nice addition.

Lessons Learned:
So the egg-allergy angle failed. The duck meat is really good, but they are really hard to de-feather. We can skin the birds and avoid having to de-feather, but a nice, crispy skin on a duck breast is delicious. But again, ducks are really, really hard to de-feather! We tried the chicken plucker, hot wax dips, hand plucking. None of it works well. I did process (and de-feather!) all but 5 of the males and kept all of the females. But then an unknown predator (hawk? fox? raccoon?) killed 3 of our females. We now only have 7 females remaining. They are laying pretty good now, 3-5 per day. That’s decent for this breed. We now have three nests that indicate our ducks may be getting broody (ready to sit and hatch some ducklings). We have also not had any problem selling our duck eggs. Finally, after doing more research, our ponds are not quite large enough for the number of birds we have. Too many birds on a pond, and the pond will quickly get out of balance. Too much manure dropping into the water will result in algae blooms and fish die-off. Too many ducks on a small pond will quickly kill the pond.

Moving Forward:
We like the ducks a lot. We are hoping they will go broody and raise some ducklings. We will keep the females and process (skin!) the males. We will continue to sell any excess duck eggs we have. We are still trying to see if ducks will work for us in the long run.

 

GEESE

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A young Pilgrim gander (male).

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A mature Toulouse gander.

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The white Pilgrim gander with the Toulouse geese

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Goose eggs are large, and a double-yolked goose egg is enormous!

Overview:
We started with 6 pairs of sexed goslings. We had three male/female pairs of Pilgrim Geese and three male/female pairs of Large Dewlap Toulouse Geese. We lost one due to a leg injury. We lost another to a poultry netting injury. I had to process one due to him being really mean (my kids called him Vader, and they were pretty scared of him). We then lost another four to another unknown predator (fox? raccoon? opossum?). We now have one male Pilgrim and two female Pilgrim Geese and two male Toulouse Geese.

Lessons Learned:
Our goal of having a few pairs of breeding geese has not gone well so far. We made a nice, A-frame nest box for the geese, but the geese ignored it. Both of our female Pilgrims made nests on their own next to the pond. Despite what I just said above about keeping the birds off the pond, we decided to let the geese have access to the water. Geese prefer to breed in water, especially the large breeds like our Large Dewlap Toulouse. The Pilgrim Geese would breed in the water troughs we used in the pastures. But the Toulouse only bred once they got on the pond. So that was a good move on our part. But then we lost our last female Toulouse, so… no more pond for the geese. On top of all this, before the geese started to make nests, we were able to collect a number of eggs. A single goose egg is at least the size of three chicken eggs. They taste great. This was an unexpected bonus for us. Another lesson learned is that my kids are a little scared of the geese. Getting “goosed” is a real thing, and it can be scary for a small child. Again, we don’t want stress on our farm, so this is a bit of a conundrum for us. We all kind of like the geese even though they have not worked out as planned and they can be intimidating.

Moving Forward:
Geese can live a long time. 15-20 years is not out of the question. In fact, there are reports of geese living well over 60 years. I believe that author Harvey Ussery shared a story of a goose living over one hundred years of age in the UK, and was till raising a brood of goslings each Spring, but she unfortunately died from a tractor accident. My point is that a single, first season with the geese is not enough time to make a decision. We plan to keep the geese for now. We are running them with the ducks, and this is working well for now. We will see what the next year holds.

 

GUINEA FOWL

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Our flock of Guinea Fowl

Over 100 eggs were in this Guinea nest found by one of our WOOFERs (Jordan).

Over 100 eggs were in this Guinea nest found by one of our WOOFERs (Jordan).

Overview:
We ordered 23 one-day-old Guinea keets. We now have 22 adults. We lost one, but we have no idea what happened to it. It was just gone one day. We purchased the Guineas to eat ticks as we are in an area with a lot of ticks.

Lessons Learned:
Guineas love ticks! We used to have ticks crawling everywhere on this property, even on the front porch. Within a few weeks of letting the Guineas free range, I don’t think we have had one tick in the 4-5 acres surrounding our house, and we only rarely see them in the pastures. The Guineas range pretty far, covering all 45 acres of our property that are in pasture. They don’t roam much into the woods, and that is where we end up seeing ticks. A bonus is that Guinea eggs taste great. They are a bit smaller than chicken eggs (it takes 3 Guinea eggs to equal 2 chicken eggs). The problem is that Guineas do not lay in nest boxes. They will try to find a secluded location and lay eggs there until caught. None of the hens have gone broody, so occasionally we find a Guinea nest with 50-100 eggs in it! We will eat many of them, but if we are unsure of the freshness, we will boil them and feed the boiled eggs to the pigs. Guineas, just like most birds, enjoy a good dust bath. Unfortunately, they have decided the brick flower beds that line the front of our house are perfect for them. Did it matter the flower beds were filled with flowers? Not to the Guineas. So now we have dirt filled flower beds. The only thing that survived in there were the Rosemary, Lavender, and Mint. So, that is what we are going to fill the beds with. I am not a big fan of these type of flower beds anyway (they get too dried out and require watering too frequently, the soil is not very deep, etc). So the Guineas kind of helped make a decision for us.

Moving Forward:
The Guineas have done their job exceedingly well. Nary a tick to be found unless we venture into the woods. We get eggs as a bonus!

 

DOGS

This is our Scrubs. He travelled the world with us and got us to the farm. We still miss him.

This is our Scrubs. He traveled the world with us and got us to the farm. We still miss him.

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Our male Australian Shepherd, Ritter.

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Our female Australian Shepherd, Arabelle.

Overview:
We had a Dalmatian for about 8 years. We travelled the world together (literally… he lived with us on three continents!). Scrubs made it about 1 year on the farm with us before he died of a presumed liver cancer. That was a really tough time for us. It still is if we think about him too much.

Lessons Learned:
Dogs are an integral part of farm life for us. They offer protection. They offer friendship. We will never have a farm without a dog.

Moving Forward:
Two new Australian Shepherd puppies arrived on the farm within the last month, and they have already become part of the Bauernhof!

 

TREES

We ordered a bunch of trees from Versaland!

We ordered a bunch of trees from Versaland!

Overview:
We have planted about 200 trees so far. These are a mix of Apple, Cherry, Persimmon, Pawpaw, Black Locust, Redbud, and Oak. We still have a number of Chestnuts and Apples to plant, but we are waiting to finish our swales first (see next topic).

Lessons Learned:
Planting takes time. If the soil has not been prepared in any manner, planting takes even longer. We are trying to strike a middle ground between the $100 hole for a $10 tree approach (this means you take a lot of time to perfectly plant a tree) and Mark Shepard’s STUN approach (Simple, Total, Utter, Neglect… plant as many inexpensive trees as possible, as fast as possible, and know that you will lose some). Irrigation is a big deal as well. Fortunately, we have wells and long hoses that can reach each of the trees we planted. If we have not had an inch of rain in the week, we irrigate. This has worked well so far, and we have only had to irrigate twice. But irrigation does take a lot of time.

Moving Forward:
We will continue to plant many, many, many trees!

 

SWALES

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The first swale on the Bauernhof will be just under a half-mile long.

Overview:
We have about 45 acres of pasture with many rolling hills. I have marked out just about one half mile (0.8 km) of an almost continuous contour line cutting across our pastures. I was trying to come up with a way to get some swales built, when I noticed a neighbor had an excavator sitting behind his barn. Our 70+-year-old neighbor, Billy, used to build roads and now has a farm. He has now spent quite a bit of time over at our farm, repairing ponds and building swales for us. What a blessing!

Lessons Learned:
We have a LOT of shale just under the surface of our degraded soils. This takes a lot of time to dig through. Our neighbor Billy has a small, older excavator. Is it perfectly ideal for building swales? No. But does it work? Yes, it does! It just takes a bit more time and finesse, but fortunately, Billy has both. I spent a lot of time thinking about how and where we wanted to put the swales. This is a pretty permanent decision. I almost got stuck in that “analysis paralysis” stage and never made a decision. Finally, I picked a primary reference point and got started. So far, the swales are working well.

Moving Forward:
We still have the other half of the swale to build and plant, but things are going well so far.

 

WOOFERS

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Overview:
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is an organization that connects people interested in learning about and experiencing farm life with host farms. We signed up to be a host farm. My wife does all the screening. Getting quality individuals is really important to us considering we have 4 small children. Our WOOFERs have their own bedroom above our garage.

Lessons Learned:
We have had 4 WOOFERs so far. They have been fantastic! Two have been Americans, one French/Canadian, and one Kiwi from New Zealand. All have been absolutely wonderful. We focus on getting quality people. We are not task-masters on the farm. Yes, there is an understanding that they will provide work for us, and we will provide room and board (food). But we love sharing our farm with young people who are interested in learning more about agriculture, Permaculture, and sustainable/regenerative farming. We want our WOOFERs to feel they have contributed to something good. We want them to find peace here. And our children are continuing to keep their minds opened by meeting people from all over the world (now, they already have a pretty good worldview considering they have lived most of their lives outside of the USA). The WOOFERs mostly take care of the daily animal chores and help with additional projects as needed. This has freed up time for us to move forward on additional projects.

Moving Forward:
The WOOFER addition to our farm has been invaluable. For ourselves, our family, and our WOOFERs, I hope we always have at least one WOOFER on the farm! (If you are interested, check us out!)

 

MISCELLANEOUS OTHER PROJECTS

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We had a Youth Group from Michigan spend 4 days clearing Eastern Red Cedar seedlings and saplings from our pastures!

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Right side: Before our animals. Left side: After our animals.

Soil:
We will continue to work on building the quality of our soil. We are doing this through intensive, rotational grazing of our animals and adding any organic content to the soil that we can find.

Pastures:
Directly tied into the soil topic above is the health of our pastures. We first had to clear the pastures of the encroaching Easter Red Cedars that were attempting to turn the pasture back to forest (see the photo above). The grazing systems we are using will are already improving our pastures. We do occasionally reseed, but not much. I have also mowed certain sections of the pasture a single time with my riding mower after our animals are moved off of it… yes, I am sure some of my neighbors laugh when they see me on my riding mower in the middle of our 45 acres of pasture, but I don’t mind. Our system is working. We had a lot of Broomsedge Bluestem (Andropogon virginicus), well, we still do have a lot, but it is becoming less and less every day. Broomsedge is a native to our area, but it is a less than ideal pasture grass. It is a great marker of poor soil quality. As we are improving our soil quality, the other more desirable species start to take back the space where only the Broomsedge could grow. We are ending up with better pastures every day.

Gardens:
We will finally get started on installing our Forest Garden and Annual Vegetable Garden this Spring. We are getting a later start than I wanted, but that’s okay. Our goal is to continually moving forward. If the timing is not perfect, but we are making progress, then I am happy.

Ponds:
We have three ponds on our property. Our largest pond was almost lost due to cattle having constant access to it before we bought the farm. Fortunately, our neighbor Billy and his excavator came to the rescue. We repaired a very eroded dam wall, reseeded it, and saved it. We have a second pond that is smaller and also has some significant erosion, but is not currently at risk. We also have a very small pond that is severely eroded and almost empty now. Cattle wore down the dam wall, and almost all the water leaked out. I hope to get these ponds repaired this year. I am also planning on adding some irrigation pipes so that we can water our animals from the ponds without letting them have access to the water’s edge.

Forests:
We have over 50 acres of mixed hardwood forests consisting of Oaks, Hickory, Black Walnut, Black Locust, Redbud, Eastern Red Cedar, and other Pine trees mixed in, along with many other species. There are many useful plants in the understory as well. We also have numerous species of edible mushrooms in the forest. Our forests are a significant untapped resource. We are still thinking about ways to appropriately use them.

 

WEBSITE

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TCPermaculture.com

Overview:
It was five years ago, this month, that I started this website. My very first article on the site stated:

In my years of studying about Permaculture, I have often been a bit frustrated with the majority of the authors.  They are all living and writing and designing in the tropics and sub-tropics.  I plan on living in a temperate climate.  While there are a few books, and it seems more every year, on temperate climate Permaculture, many of them are about the general principles of Permaculture.  Few of them get into the weeds, so to speak, of the actual implementation.  I have found bits and pieces of very good information but never a good central clearinghouse for this information.  My goal for this blog is to create as close to a single stop shop for information on temperate climate Permaculture.  It is mainly about putting all the knowledge I have and will find into one spot for me to use in the future. Hopefully it will also be a place others can use and maybe contribute to as well. 

Lessons Learned:
Since I have started my site, I have been pleasantly surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response from readers. Also, since I have started my site, there have been many books published about Permaculture in temperate climates. This is fantastic! Since I finally have a farm of my own, my free time to actually sit down and write has been significantly decreased. That is okay with me. I was never trying to create the most popular website in the world. I just wanted a site useful for me and others. I have done a pretty good job at keeping up to date with my Temperate Climate Permaculture VLOG. I hope to do a bit better with written articles as well.

Moving Forward:
I continue to try and strike a balance between my spiritual life, family life, work life, farm life, social life, personal life, public life, emotional life, etc. It is always something to be introspective about, and I will probably always need to make small corrections here and there. But this site will be here for as long as I can keep it here!

 

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Our Farming Life only works with Family

I am amazed at how much we have accomplished in just a single year, but it would be misleading if I let anyone believe this is all my doing. None of what we have accomplished would be possible without my family. Years ago my wife could never picture herself living on a farm, and now she could never picture herself not living on a farm. She is truly the engine that keeps the farm moving day to day. I come up with all these ideas, but she is truly the one that keeps us on schedule and keeps the house running day after day. She not only helps out in pretty much every project on the farm, but she also raises and homeschools our four children, schedules all of our visitors and WOOFERs, and still finds time to be a writer. Incredible and invaluable is too weak a description. My father and mother are also living on the farm with us, and I have been so happy with how well our multi-generational farmstead has run. My father is a retired carpenter and my mother a lifelong homemaker. They have provided skills, expertise, wisdom, community, and support which has allowed this farm to blossom.

I am sure I am leaving out many projects we have worked on this year, but I need to stop somewhere.

I am so excited about the future of the Bauernhof Kitsteiner. I can hardly wait to see what next year brings!

 

 

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