Old Home Farm

Be Stihl My Beating Heart

farm signIt is a widely acknowledged fact that the surest way to a man's heart is through his stomach. But there are other things that sets the old ticker to palpitating. Especially if he is a country farmer.

First came the stock trailer. We had an old horse trailer, but it was narrow and difficult to load many sheep into, so Greg had a friend custom build a cage for our trailer. It is just the very thing to haul sheep, or a nice fat pig to butcher.

1 stock trailer

Then came the tractor. We inherited my Dad's old 8N Harry Ferguson, but it reached a point where it needed a mechanic to keep it running and we had to part with it. For years we traded work with our neighbor so we could borrow their tractor for our own use, as we were unable to afford another one. Then our dear neighbor had a debilitating stroke, and we were offered that very tractor by them.

2 the tractor

Next item on the wish list was a tool shed. We did a lot of looking and finally chose one made by a Mennonite family. If you want a big ticket farm item, it pays to buy quality.

3 tool shed

What is it with men and pickup trucks? A woman will 'moon' over a new dress, great shoes, stylish handbag, diamonds, or a classy car, but show a man a pickup truck of any vintage and he will start to drool. We looked long and hard for an fordable pickup truck with low mileage that had been well cared for. Greg's Dad solved the problem by selling us his, so he could buy – you guessed it, a new pickup truck.

4 pickup truck

And now has come the chainsaw. This is a standard necessity for any farm. Greg has been through several of these which have not lasted but a couple of years each. And as with the tool shed, we decided if we wanted something that would last, we had to go with quality. Top of the line quality is anything made by Stihl. Top price too. So I began to squirrel back a little here and there planning to take him to Lowe's for Christmas and let him get that premium chainsaw. But God's blessings continue and our neighbors decided to sell their 10 year old Stihl as they have hired a firm of landscapers and have no more need for their own chainsaw. So, once again, we could afford a premium used item.

Greg was like a child with a new toy. Even after sitting idle for 10 years, the saw started up first tug on the cord. He cleaned it, oiled it, put in fresh gasoline, and began trimming trees. He spent three hours wondering around the property looking for things to cut. I don't think he's had so much fun in years.

5 the chainsaw

There is another old adage I've often passed along to new brides. You get your first child when you say “I do”. He comes fully grown with very expensive toys. And I wouldn't have him any other way.

Splitting Tomatoes

farm signI love gardening. It is peaceful, relaxing, exciting, and lots of hard work. Thankfully Greg does the lion's share of the heavy lifting, and physical labor. I do all of the planning, planting, harvesting, and tedious work. And there is nothing more tedious than splitting tomatoes.

Every year I start my seeds in my mini green house. I use bio-degradable cups and litter pans for trays. I start the seeds in February and by April the pots are crowed with little plants needing some space of their own. If you've ever tried to plant just one tomato seed in a pot, you will understand how this happens. I usually wind up with 5-6 seeds together and then have to thin them out.

1 tomato starts

The books say to choose the best two stems and gently pull out the rest and dispose of them. But I've never been able to do that. I've planted the seeds, nurtured them, and whooped with excitement when they begin to poke up out of the soil. So I take the pots out to the garden shed and have a go at transplanting all of them.

Greg found me a really nice cast-off work bench so I gather all of my paraphernalia and go to work. First I mix some soil for the new pots. My no fail recipe for tomatoes is adding calcium to the soil. Crushed oyster shells from the feed store meets this need. I mix one scoop shells to two scoops Miracle Grow potting soil. Then I carefully separate the tiny plants and bury each one in a new pot up to the bottom leaves. Tomato stems will put out roots when buried and this gives the plant a really firm root system. When I transfer them into the garden containers, I will again bury them up to the bottom leaves.

2 work table

This year I planted True Black Brandywine and a free gift from Baker Creek Seeds – Purple Russian Tomatoes. I tried a couple of the True Black Brandywines last year and discovered I like them better than the Purple Cherokees. So now well see how the Russians do. So far all of my little seedlings have survived the split. If they all do well, I will be able to fill all of my containers and then have some left over for friends. And for me, that's what gardening is really all about. Being able to share plants and produce with friends and family.

3 finished plants



farm signIn his book The Shepherd of the Hills, Harold Bell Wright referred to “the trail that is no one knows how old”. Growing up in the Ozarks myself, this passage spoke volumes to me because I had spent my life following trails.

I whiled away many hours in the woods as a child and young adult — squirrel hunting, rock collecting, or just rambling. And I usually followed a well worn trail when I did so. The trails were often made by either our cows, or some sort of wild life. Though as a child I pretended they were Indian trails.

There had been actual Indian trails through our woods many years ago. I found arrow heads to prove it. My Daddy talked often of following trails when he went hunting that had supposedly been made by Indians. Of course, he himself made trails through the woods when hunting, or going visiting. Roads were pretty rough in those days, and it was usually easier and faster to follow a trail through the woods either on foot or horseback to go from one house to another. Folks around here didn't mind back then if you rambled down a clear cut path across their woods. Everyone did it.

Right across our field is the remains of what I've been told is an old wagon road. Daddy kept to this road when driving to the barn, or feeding hay during the winter which added to the deep ruts. When we moved over here, we kept using the road for our drive way, and to reach the gate at the opposite end of the field.

Old Wagon trail

When the state put a road through, they ran it parallel to this old wagon trail, and the paved highway is still in use today.

road runs parallel

The other morning on the way home from the barn, I discovered that the sheep have begun to make trails of their own. The Suffolk sheep we had were truly flock animals and traveled in a V shape with the lead ewe at the center. Hair sheep, on the other hand, travel single file following their lead creating a well worn path as they go. They have a path directly to the barn, and others through the field where they find the best grazing.

sheep trails

Even the dogs, cats, and chickens leave their mark on the lawn following a path around the house that leads to the water bowl and best shade trees.

trail around the house

We humans also leave trails, but we usually cover them with cement or rocks to form a sidewalk.

the front sidewalk

And then, there are the trails that no one can see. These are secret trails left by visitors in the night. But Hucky's hound dog nose can always find them and follow them to the maker. They say that life in general is full of roads and trails. But the best ones are always found in the country.

trails we cannot see


Chick Days

farm signThere are many signs of spring in the country. Robins and Meadow Larks, Easter Lilies coming up on the old house place, the roar of motorcycles traveling in convoy down the country roads (I've always thought that must be such fun!). One of my favorite signs is chick days at the local feed store.

the feed store

Every spring, the local feed stores bring in chicks of all breeds for sale. They put them in big bins, or metal stock tanks, and everyone has a chance to replenish their flock as well as purchasing butcher chickens. Sold in lots of 6, you can mix or match to meet your needs and preferences.

Thanks to my friend Pat King who posts notices on Facebook, I always have a heads up when the chicks are due to arrive. This year, I went for Barred Rocks. They are dual purpose chickens. They make great layers who are also good meat birds. I bought 16, and the girls at the store helped me to box them up.

catching chicks

A few years ago, I bought a rabbit hutch that works perfectly for a brooder. I can take the mesh floor out and just put them in the bottom with pine shavings until they are older, then replace the floor and keep them clean and healthy.

When they have their feathers, they are transferred outside to the bigger rabbit cage on the porch. We installed a little roost for them, and one end is boxed in to give them warmth and shelter. They live there until they are old enough to move to the chicken tractor.

The cages

I will be keeping 4 of these chicks for new layers, and butchering the other 10 for the freezer. The grand kids always love to help with this activity, and I also have someone Greg works with who wants to come and learn the process. Now I am anxiously awaiting guinea days in June!

A Thief In The Night

farm signIn cold weather my dogs like to sleep inside. They usually don't stir at all until morning, but a few nights ago, Huckey woke me up around 2:00 am. I thought it was just the call of nature, but when I opened the door, I heard frantic squawking from the chicken yard.

Huckey shot out and Beau nearly knocked me down following. I jammed my bare feet into my mud boots, grabbed my gun and shells and followed.

In the chicken yard I found a small pile of feathers, but no body. I entered, carefully locked the gate after me, and looked around. There was no evidence of a body, and all the chickens were crammed into the top level of the nesting tower. I thought about chicken predators and which ones do not leave a body behind. Foxes, bobcats, coyotes, owls, and here I was locked in the pen with them in only my PJs and mud boots.

pile of feathers

I shined my light around the perimeter to look for signs of egress and when I found none, I took a deep breath and opened the chicken house door. From the other side of the gate, Beauregard silently watched and shook like a leaf. He is terrified of guns, but for my sake he would not leave. Huckey had no such qualms. I could just see him peering out from under the back porch. He had done his part by raising the alarm and that would have to be sufficient.

I carefully entered the chicken house and shined my light around. Nothing obvious presented itself, so I began to shine the light in hidden areas. And there he was, Mr. Possum, hiding under a shelf that used to hold nesting boxes, but now serves as a roost.

possum under shelf

I'm not a big fan of opossums They are nasty, evil tempered, and eat their prey alive. So I had no qualms about filling him full of lead. The next morning when Greg came home, we drug him out to dispose of the body. He was one of the biggest opossums I've seen around here. We figure he was the one who was living with the pigs and free loading off of their slop. If he had been content with that, he would still be alive today.

a really big possum

Huckey served as County Coroner and pronounced him dead, and Greg removed the body.

disposing of the body

I then began to count my chickens. All were present and accounted for, but Fluff was minus her tail feathers. Narrow escape. There were 'good dog' praises and treats all around. As for DC? He never even woke up.

chickens dogs DC

Clipping Wings

farm signWhoever said chickens can't fly didn't know chickens! True, they cannot lift off and soar through the sky like other birds, but they can fly short distances – over fences, into trees, into the garden. And the only way to stop them is to clip their wings.

Every flock has a few renegades, and mine is no exception. I have a small mixed flock of nine hens and a rooster. All have names and distinct personalities. And all are a joy to have around, even the rebels. Albert, as most of you know, is my Marans Rooster. He's short, stout, and one of the best roosters I've ever owned. He loves his girls and sees to it that they are well fed and protected.


My two oldest girls are Chicken and Buffy. Chicken was one of a set of 4-H chicks and belonged to my granddaughter Kaydence. They let them free range, and all fell prey to hawks and coyotes except for Chicken. She was a real pet and followed Kaydence everywhere, which is what saved her life. For a while, she remained at their house nesting in the barn and spending time with the dogs. Then one day she wandered down to my house and got a look at my rooster, and it was love at first sight. She flew over the fence and has been here ever since.


Buffy is also a survivor. A few years back I got eight Buff Orpington chicks to raise up for layers. When they were old enough, I moved them into the chicken tractor and put them down near the end of the yard. Enter the 'weasels of the wild wood.' I didn't even know we had weasels until my chicks started disappearing through a hole dug under the side of the tractor. Beau managed to kill one, but by that time the chicks were all gone. Then, two days later, I looked out the window and saw a young Buff Orpington wandering about near the now empty tractor. She was easy to catch, and I discovered all of the feathers were gone around her neck, which was raw, but not badly damaged. I brought her inside, nursed her back to health, and named her Buffy.


Since then I have added assorted chicks of all kinds. Fluff is an Americana; Gertrude is a Silver Wyandotte; Rhoda and Mary are Rhode Island Reds; Penny is a Barnevelder; Wild Thing is a Phoenix; and Turk? No one knows exactly what Turk is. Her body is a pretty orange, but she has this long neck with dark feathers that seem to wrap around it making it look even longer. Kaydence once said to me “Mimi, that one looks like a turkey,” so we named her Turk.


Wild Thing started the problem, hence her name. Our back yard is flush up against the woods. One day Wild Thing got bored with the yard and flew over the fence to explore the woods. Soon after, Turk followed. Coyotes and foxes are a constant concern around here – I've seen both lurking in our woods, as well as the bobcat I have observed crossing the road at the end of our property.


And then began the damage to the garden. We noticed holes dug in beds which I attributed to DC, until the onion beds were attacked. Then I knew it had to be chickens. DC always gives onions a wide berth. So we began a campaign to stop the wanderers.

We decided to start clipping wings. The only trouble was, when we got into the chicken house, we discovered several chickens missing, including Albert. So I began scouting around after dark to try to find their hiding places. I discovered, to quote a ditty from Sesame Street, There Are Chickens In The Trees.

I am still a fairly good shot with a rock, but some of the culprits were so high up in the branches it took our shepherd staffs to knock them out. When they came gliding down, we found them to be Turk, Wild Thing, Buffy, and Albert. We later located Penny under the back steps in a nest.

Once everyone was secured in the hen house, I went for the light and scissors. We have found that if you want to work with chickens, it is best done at night. The dark seems to calm them into a kind of stupor. If we are introducing new chickens to the flock, we always do it after dark by simply putting the new ones on the roost beside the current residents and the next morning everyone is accepted.


So Greg caught the miscreants and I did the honors with the scissors. Then we left them in the run for two full days. For a while at least, everyone will be in the yard and roosting in the hen house. Until the feathers grow out...



Moon Signs

farm signMy father always planted by the moon signs. He was a firm believer that the phases of the moon affect plant growth. Every year he bought a farmer's almanac and carefully studied the moon calendar provided to decide when exactly to plant his garden.

Moon signs are considered by many to be nothing but superstition and folk lore. But, I have to say, my father's garden never failed. Of course, he was a good gardener. He understood plants and their needs. He understood the importance of the right soil. He also told me that God put the moon and the stars in the heavens for signs, and he believed those signs included when to plant.

This year I subscribed to the farmer's almanac magazine and received as free gifts the 2019 Almanac and a calendar complete with a moon signs chart for planting. I looked at that for a long time, then decided if it was good enough for Daddy, it is good enough for me.

Moon sign calendar

So, I spent time reading and marking my own calendar, and February 3rd, I started my cabbage seeds in the mini green house.

starting seeds

This last Saturday was the final day of the moon phase to plant carrots, turnips, and onions. So that's how we spent our afternoon.

Greg emptied the composter to add new soil to my carrot / turnip bed and did most of the planting. I just broadcast the seeds, but Greg likes to make little rows and use a miniature seed planter.

carrots and turnips

For Valentine's Day, my loving husband got me 3lbs of yellow onion sets! (He also gave me a box of chocolates). I love onions and already have a bed of Egyptian Walking Onions that I can eat year round. I actually pulled some at Christmas to make my cheese log with.

onion sets

Three pounds of onion sets go a long way! So not only did I get my onion bed planted and mulched with straw, but I put onions in some extra tubs. If they all make, I will be having a terrific harvest!

onion beds

Next month I will be very busy starting seeds and planting in the garden, according to my calendar. And this fall I will find out if the moon signs are the way to go. Sometimes those old folk tales are based on some truth. At least, my Daddy thought so.

next month's calendar

Photos by Leah McAllister.

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