Here at Green Willow Homestead, it’s important for us to take the time to look back on the year. There were so many gains and pains we experienced on our farm and in life during 2018. I want to share them with you in hopes that you can learn from our mistakes and take joy in our successes. Living sustainably, farming regeneratively, and being a crazy chicken momma takes a village - so don’t hesitate to reach out if any of these reflections hit home for you.
The Spring From Hell (The Major Farming Pains of 2018)
The year opened on every single one of our chickens getting lice. The displaced songbirds that came back too early and nearly starved to death after a late blizzard (can you say hello climate change?) had taken up a temporary home inside our strawbale coops with the chickens. We set out extra dust baths with wood ash and diatomaceous earth to help because chickens are smart and know how to take care of themselves if you give them the right tools (i.e. extra-extra dust baths). Of course, I still was racked with guilt and felt I had failed the chickens in some way. Thus began my journey towards being less hard on myself as a first-generation female farmer.
The garden was ransacked by songbirds as well. All my freshly planted cold season vegetables in our hoop houses became a salad bar for the hungry displaced songbirds. I had a mix of emotions- glad that I offered some sustenance to the birds, but miffed that my efforts to grow food for ourselves had been thwarted. We set up hanging CDs and scarecrows, but the birds just laughed and continued to dine. This next growing season I plan on using fabric row covers instead over the hoops and clamping them down to keep pests out. Wish me luck.
Que scaly leg mites. We had transitioned the hens back out onto pasture and took a sigh of relief. Unbeknownst to us, mites had taken up residence in the woodgrain of the tractors over the winter. I had cleaned them and prepped them in the fall, but alas, my hard work was all for not. The bugs still got the best of me - and the hens. Thankfully, I had the help of an amazing student volunteer and we cleaned those tractors down with a pressure washer, a concoction of peppermint and orange essential oil, and diatomaceous earth to boot. Each hen got her legs slathered with VetRX and coconut oil every night until those godforsaken mites were no more.
Then I got what we could only figure was West Nile Virus. My body started having chills that felt more like seizures, I was fatigued more than I had ever felt in my life, and every joint ached. I got tested and my antibody levels were slightly raised, meaning something had happened and my body was working hard to recover from it. The mosquitoes were absolutely god awful this year. You felt like a pincushion the moment you stepped outside.
Promptly following blood-sucking parasites one and two (and three if you count mosquitoes), we were met with one of the hottest Memorial Days on record. The humidity was so thick, you looked outside and started sweating. We raced to fill kiddy pools with ice and water to help our poor panting hens. Believe it or not, humidity and hot weather take more of a toll on poultry’s respiratory systems than cold weather. With their weakened immune systems and trouble breathing, the hens contracted a wet raspy cough and their breathing became labored.
Confused and dismayed, I prowled forums and reached out to farmers for help. The answer was simple: injectable medicine, given intramuscularly, for three to five days. Did I mention we had 75 birds at the time? That was at least 75 x 3 = 225 injections. That’s at least 225 syringes to be meticulously filled and administered to each individual bird. Did I also mention Paul was working a hard deadline at work and gone until 10pm every night? This meant we had to give 75 birds injections in the black of night when he’s overworked and I’ve been stressing about it all day. There was also rain in the forecast for the next three days.
These are the moments when beginner farmers feel the seductive pull to give up. That if every year is like this then why bother. I felt the urge to submit myself to the mentality of “why me” but instead I chose to shake off the shackles of victimhood. I steeled myself and chose to see these challenges as extremely valuable learning experiences. I also made a hard left into self-care to be gentler with myself through these trying moments.
So we did it. For three days (only one in the pouring rain, thank god) we administered medicine and immediately our birds were met with relief. I became a pro at injections and even was able to share my knowledge with our summer student interns.
I look back on the spring from hell and feel nothing but intense pride that we got through it, we learned, and we were all better for it.
The Summer of Love! Gains of 2018 in Farming and Living Sustainably
The best moment for our farm was officially opening it! Over Easter weekend we launched our roadside farm stand so our community could buy eggs and produce on the honesty system. Many friends and neighbors stopped by to say hello and support our new venture. After dreaming for years of this, it felt wonderful to finally open the doors to our farm and say, “Let us feed you the very best so you can feel your very best.”
The most joyful part of early summer was having two broody hens hatch their very own clutches of chicks. Paul and I picked our favorite rooster and hen combinations and wound up with a literal Easter basket of beautiful baby chicks. Both moms had their strengths and their weaknesses, but have both secured their spot as mommas for life on our farm, never to see the inside of a stew pot. There is nothing quite like watching a momma hen lead her chicks out into the grass for the first time, teaching them how to scratch and peck for bugs.
Paul and I decided to make it official this coming June - woohoo! Honestly, it feels like we're already married, but we are both ready to take this next step. I mean, he’s seen my crazy chicken lady side and still wants to be my husband so we’re doing something right.
The birds and the bees (the literal kind not the figurative) were everywhere this year. We noticed many more pollinators on our land, specifically bees and monarchs. We made sure to plant as many pollinator areas as possible for them as we geared up for the farm, so it was delightful to see our hard work paying off. The bird action, as mentioned previously, was at an all-time high. There were tons of baby robins and cardinals in our area, a noticeable difference from our first year on the farm.
Our super talented friend, Dane Ohlrogge, came to visit our farm and made us a welcome video! Despite mosquitoes, terrible heat, and lots of sweating - he made it happen. The drone shots are especially breathtaking! I love the end product and how it represents our farm. You can watch it by clicking above or heading to this link.
Having the chickens on the back pasture for the first full season increased the biodiversity tenfold. There was only bluegrass there when we started. At the end of the season, we found white clover, red clover, aster, violets, rye, and pea. I’m sure their feed had something to do with it, but their scratching and fertilizing sure helped too! The pasture is still noticeably green and lush in December.
After an initial prototype of the mobile chicken tractor in 2016, then building an additional two tractors in 2017, we released The Chicken Tractor Build Plans to the public this summer. Putting together the build plans was such a fun way to help other poultry farmers and chicken tenders. We love seeing all the pictures people send us of their tractors and their happy chickens living inside them.
This summer we also had three student intern sponsorships with local Franklin kids. I loved teaching them about chicken care and how we do things on the farm. I seriously would have died for this opportunity as a middle schooler, so I’m happy I got to pay it forward. We plan to keep doing this and hopefully spread the farming bug for young adults in our community.
Another huge win this summer was our passionate loyal customer base. We are overjoyed to have returning customers who rave about our eggs, potatoes, popcorn, and other goodies. They raved to their friends about our farm stand and we reached our supply ceiling. When I told Paul we need more chickens, he just laughed. Not having enough eggs to meet demand our first year is a good problem. Don’t tell Paul but I want 35 more hens in 2019.
The Joys of Fall
Our squash and corn harvest went swimmingly with the help of our young interns. In 2017 it took me three days to get through it all, and we did it in one afternoon with three sets of hands. Yes, the squash bugs always “win” in their own way (ugh), but we harvested over 200 lbs of winter squash this year so we won too. On the note of squash bugs - does anyone else hate them as much as I do? I have a tip for you! I learned that when the hostas send up their flowering spikes that’s when the first generation of squash bugs emerges from their winter slumber to feast on your squash vines. You’re welcome in advance.
The biggest win of the fall was publishing my ebook, The Holistic Home. In January I decided it was time to write my first book. I took all the amazing holistic lessons I’d learned from farming, living, and researching and put them into one amazing resource. I felt that the landscape for getting into a more sustainable way of life was either too confusing or felt very prepper-screw-humankind intense. I wanted to create a space for green living newbies to step into their sustainable living journeys without judgment or dogma. I poured my heart into this book - from writing it to photographing it to designing it myself. I truly feel that it will help empower people to live a more holistic earth-friendly life for their own health, and the planet’s.
Sometimes the sustainable living journey can feel super lonely. Meeting Becca Tetzlaff and seeing all the amazing things she is doing to go green was a huge win. We combined our passions and launched The Positively Green Podcast together in October. This platform is another space I felt compelled to create so others had a place to learn about topics like composting and toxin-free makeup without judgment or the guilty notion that they aren’t “doing enough.” News flash - I feel that way myself sometimes! Working with Becca has been refreshing and inspiring. We have so many great topics and episodes coming your way - I can’t wait!
My final big win was being interviewed for the very first time on Behind The Brand Podcast with Kelsey Kerslake. I spoke with Kelsey (best name EVER) on how you can incorporate sustainable practices into your own business, even if it isn't a core function of your business. I include four key questions you can ask yourself to complete a simple "sustainability audit" that you can do in just one day. You also get to hear a bunch about my backstory and how I wound up here at Green Willow Homestead. It's been a wild ride and I loved being able to reflect with Kelsey on my journey.
That’s my year in review with Green Willow Homestead. It was definitely a year of big lessons, huge goals, and proud accomplishments. In my next post, I share what my goals are for 2019 with Green Willow Homestead. Enjoy!
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Thanks for stopping by Green Willow Homestead! From chicken rearing to composting, we've got our hands full and we love sharing what we've learned along the way. Follow along as we turn the 80 acres we call home into a farm that serves its community and a homestead that nourishes us throughout the seasons.
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Favorite Books of 2020
2. Braiding Sweetgrass
3. As Long As Grass Grows
4. The Small Scale Poultry Flock
5. The Zero Waste Solution