Coming to the Asheboro Downtown Farmers' Market beginning May 2015!
Before the world froze over at the end of the year, Olive and I built a Greenhouse. I dug deep on the internet and found a couple of different designs--and most included PVC. I've got nothing against PVC for plumbing, but I just know that when it bakes out under UV rays for a couple of years it tends to get brittle and then sometimes it just up and quits on you.
So I was sold when I found TexasPrepper2's video on YouTube. He uses cattle panels as the main structure and it is pretty robust (this cattle panel design is the main structure we also use for our pasture raised chickens). He also sounds like he could be Matthew McConaughey's uncle, which makes his videos pretty entertaining. It must be a specific Texas accent.
At any rate. I was curious to see how the structure would do with snow on it, but I already had plants started and the heater going before we got our first snow this year. It was so warm inside that the snow melted as fast as it feel. I heated the greenhouse with an old Kerosene Heater my dad had in his shop. I would leave it as low as it would go which would keep the greenhouse's temperature around 45 degrees. Even on the day the high didn't get out of the single digits, which is exceptionally cold for us here in the center of NC, the greenhouse stayed above freezing and didn't break the bank.
We got several trays of plants going now, broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage, collards, chard, and have just started to plant them out in the field. It is always exciting to start something from seed and there is a part of me that is always amazed to come back by and see the first seedling starting to sprout. It boggles the mind. Definitely would recommend the project.
Below is the TexasPrepper2 video. You can purchase his detailed plans at http://homesteadadvisor.com/greenhouse/ . He's also got a pretty handy Amazon store.
One of the hardest parts of any adventure is knowing where to start. The sages often say, "Trust your gut". In this case I'm following that advice quite literally. I love chicken. We eat it almost once a week so when Brooke and I started talking about raising some of our own food chicken was high on the list. So, assuming that we eat one chicken a week setting the goal of raising fifty birds to start with this year seemed very do-able.
Now to backtrack slightly, I like so many others became turned on to the whole idea of raising "pastured poultry" a couple of years ago when I can across Joel Salatin and the small revolution he has started with Polyface Farms. I drank the Koolaid right away. Fast forward through the months of reading and researching about how to do this. Which lead to months of designing and drawing pens, that soon became months of planning and postulating hypothetical feed costs and conversion rates, yet there was still no chicken on the table. I am definitely all too aware of the "paradox of choice" concept in that often when presented with more options, it makes the task of selecting just one of those options increasingly more difficult. Lost in a hypothetical loop to find the perfect pastured poultry pen / method I decided to pick one somewhat at random, but following Brooke's request for more ceiling height and room per bird than Joel Salatin's 2' tall pens. I had concurrently been pining to build a greenhouse after seeing the one built out of cattle panels on YouTube by TexasPrepper2. It looked like a real ingenious design and then I saw that the folks at Botany Bay Farm were using something very similar for their chickens. Done deal.
Brooke and I decided we would order 10 chickens for a test run to carefully measure costs, time commitment, etc. As any one who has ever attempted a project knows, the idea is the easy part - the logistics are what get you. For starters we didn't have any "pasture". After some quick brainstorming, we contacted a relative/neighbor about the possibility of using a portion their field to give this a try. Our luck, they were very gracious and willing to work out an arrangement. Check that off the list.
Next we had to find a supplier, in this case the internet did most of the heavy lifting and rather than creating a spreadsheet of pros and cons I went with the first one to pop up, Murray McMurray. I did however research breeds and decided on their "Red Ranger Broilers" because they are supposed to have fewer health issues than the faster growing cornish cross varieties. The next task was figuring out how to pick up our chickens at the post office. I recall giving them my cell phone number to call when they arrived, yet they called my wife multiple times first. I don't know what happened on the government's end but, but they made it right because they were somehow able to get in touch with my mom of all people, who called me at work. Chickens - Check.
I've always considered myself lucky to have such supportive parents. Part of this whole venture stems from the nostalgia of my youth because my family always had some chickens, goats, ducks, rabbits or sometimes all of the above. In this case I'm double lucky because my dad has continued his chicken raising hobby and had all the necessary equipment to get us going including a brooder, heat lamps, feeders, waterers, and wood shavings, etc. (He and mom also spent quite a bit of time caring for the chicks when mine and Brooke's work commitments got the better of our schedules).
Now it was around this time I planned to start construction on the first pen. I purchased the lumber, screws, staples, bits of wire, gathered salvaged hardware and scoped out some tin to salvage, the only thing that was stumping me was how to strap the 15ft cattle panels to my Ford Ranger. Thirty plus year's old and I'm not ashamed to say my parents helped me with my homework on this one too. They used their van to pick them up and even got them at a discount because they were slightly bent up. Materials - Check.
Construction started out at a lightening pace, then we got an offer on our house which we had listed earlier in the Spring. Inspections, packing, purchasing a storage container, yardsale, moving, moving, moving, unpacking. A "process" to say the least. Next thing you know we find ourselves in July. Weeks behind schedule, birds nearly fully grown, but alas in about a day and a half dad and I were able to finish up construction with a healthy dose of sweat equity from Brooke too. All that was left was to move it out to pasture. Olive was excited to help document the move (see blurry picture below). Dad and I balanced it on a trailer Brooke pulled with the lawn tractor. Finally just before the sun set on us we moved the birds to their new home.
I would definitely consider this pen a work in progress, and I'm glad we built one to test before scaling up. As with most aspects of this adventure thus far, we're truly grateful for the all the love and support of our family, friends, neighbors, relatives, and the postal service representatives willing to go the extra mile to help make this a reality.
We enrolled in Piedmont Farm School (through the NC Cooperative Extension) this year after spending 2013 working hard to plan our farm future. PFS has been a wonderful educational experience not only in the classroom, but most of all on field trips. The field trips give us a wonderful opportunity to talk with the other aspiring farm students, and avid farmers. We share plans for our farms and insight on our practices. We learn closely just how hard farm life is, but how rewarding it is too when you see the fruits of your labor.
Every month Derrick and I do our homework together as a couple, work on our business plan, research other farms that are using the practices we aspire to use, and discuss our plans for BatCrow Farms. Our small farm is constantly evolving. Our ideas grow and change often as we learn more about what we are capable of and what our time limits us to. As we both work full-time jobs, we spend as much time as possible working on our farm future during our evenings and weekends. Our hope is to love what we do here on the land and to create healthy products that we are proud of, while sharing our journey with others.
Where it all began. To start our small farm off, Derrick aspired to raise pasture meat broilers, while I desired to raise free range chickens for eggs. So naturally we both started our own projects together. Here is the story about BatCrow's beginning egg layers for 2014. Our first baby chicks arrived to the farm early this spring. Our daughter named the heritage Araucana chicks 'Chicka, Chicka, Boom and Boom' (Chicka and Chicka are our lighter chicks and Boom and Boom our two darker chicks). These girls will lay a variety of soft green, blue green, olive green, or pink colored eggs. We also added four Rhode Island Reds to keep the other girls company. A month later a larger batch of chicks joined the farm. This time I added a variety of 10 more Araucana, Dominique and Silver Laced Wyandotte for our egg production.
Next we began to build a moveable chicken tractor trailer to transport our chickens throughout the field once the hens are old enough to free range later this summer. This was the most fun project for me so far. We designed it together and will complete the nesting boxes interior and roosts soon.
Last week we finally got out on Grandaddy's field and began to turn and disc the land. After taking soil samples earlier this winter we were then ready to incorporate the soil amendments. We have just began planting various types of seed potatoes. Hopefully we will get more in the ground this spring. If not, after the dust settles from our move out to the farm we are sure to see a bigger garden come fall.
As a wonderful part of Piedmont Farm School we get to take a monthly field trip to various farms. This month we visited two farms in Forsyth County, NC. We were greated at Brasfield Club Lambs by John Brasfield a very down to earth farmer. At his family farm we learned about his 10 acre experience raising 100 sheep or so at a time. We were able to see baby lambs, discuss livestock great pyrenees, see the pastural rotation system, as well as learn about electric fencing and getting water to travel to multiple pastures. The morning was loaded with new information to process including birthing, castrating, tagging ears, and parasite control.
Next on the list was the Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery. There we visited the micro dairy where we were very lucky to get a detailed tour (which if only offered for educational purposes). There small operation looked very efficient. On this 34 acre farm the family raises and milks about 20 Nubian goats. Other animals we saw were heritage chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, some sheep and cattle, as well as guard llamas and more great pyrenees. This farm was so cute and charming. Definitely a great place to take the family. You can take a dairy tour for $50 a person, look at some beautiful animals and visit the farm store. The farm store has a little bit of everything you would want to see. You can purchase the farms cheese, as well a meat, goat milk soap, goat and farm themed presents, handmade gifts, unique farm themed children's gifts and a delicious assortment of jams and other farm products. We easily spent a bunch here. We purchased 7 different frozen goat cheeses. Our favorites so far are the feta marinated with garlic and peppercorns and the farmstead traditional basil and sundered tomato chèvre. We can't wait to thaw and try our other goodies.
This visit to Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery was an optimal educational experience. Everyone was very knowledgeable and friendly. The farm was clean and well maintained. We left with so much great information and a few recommended resources for "the best goat cheese books" by Gianaclis Caldwell. This farm is a must see trip to Forsyth County open 7 days a week Monday - Saturday 9-6 and Sunday 1-6.
Taking the old antique family tractor for a ride. Had to remove the cultivator and install the plow on this 1947 beauty. So thankful to still have this tractor for our farm. Plowed the ground for our first official farm garden. Next adventure is to take the results from the soil test and start enriching the soil, plant some veggies and start composting. Heirloom veggie goodness is right around the corner.
Derrick and I first shared our love for sustainable living a decade ago when we met in college studying art. We would talk and dream about how great it would be to one day have land that could provide for our family. Then when I met Derrick's family's goats, I completely feel in love with the idea. It wasn't long after those initial conversations that Derrick's grandfather passed away. Earlier in the Spring of that year his grandfather had planted the largest garden the family had ever seen him work. It was the summer of 2006. That summer we dug potatoes and helped his grandmother eat lots of wonderful veggies from the garden. Derrick and I looked at each other and thought this is a lot of hard work, but this is the life. How can we make this happen?
Our work-life took us on a round-about path, but our desire for this lifestyle continued to grow stronger, especially when we had our daughter Olive. We saw how much she enjoyed the outdoors, helping plant our veggie gardens, pick apples and grapes, as well as tending to the chickens, turkeys and ducks at her Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw's house. We thought, "What better way to teach her where food comes from and the value of hard work than to raise and grow some of our family's food?" This year, with his grandmother's blessing, we are beginning to plant a garden on the same land Derrick's granddad farmed (and his great-granddad farmed). With this small start we're excited to be keeping the tradition alive so that we may one day be able to pass it down to our grandkids.
Derrick and Brooke Sides are the husband and wife co-founders of BatCrow Farms. Dreaming the big dream one day at a time.