Modern Day Redneck

Farm Progress

A photo of the Modern Day RedneckIt has been a rough and rocky start with the farm, but progress has been made. This little piece of land was once a bare cotton field. Now it is becoming a little farm with all the animals to go with it. Since it is a small two acres, every spot has to have a meaning and a purpose. Everything I am growing or building can be used in two to three different ways and most of the time creating a circle back to itself so no waste is involved.

I finished the barn this month and started to house it with chickens.

One sixteenth scale horse barn

It is 1/16 scale to a real horse barn and as soon as it was completed, I found out is was to small. The plan has changed a little from having chickens on the right, goats in the middle and rabbits on the left. Now all three are full of chickens. I never wanted to be an egg salesman, but it seems everyone wants eggs, and at $2.00 a dozen my chickens cannot lay enough. So to supply the demand, we changed our plan a little. Now we are feeding over 30 layers for nothing more than egg production with several more in the brooders ready to come out in a week or so.

The left side is dedicated to the wife’s mini chickens. She is incubating Serama eggs as we speak.

Serama eggs in an incubator

I have not found one person around this area selling the Serama chickens. If they can pay for themselves, I do not mind giving them a shot.

The poor rabbits were shoved out back of the barn and I was forced to do the first add on for their housing.

Rabbit hutch add on to the barn

I am raising Flemish Giants for three reasons. First is for their manure. Mixing rabbit manure with chicken manure makes for a perfect fertilizer. Rabbit manure used as a soil amendment is even higher in nitrogen than some poultry manures and it also contains a large amount of phosphorus – important for flower and fruit formation. It has an N-P-K ratio of 2.4-1.4-0.6. Also, rabbit manure, after it is cooked down, makes a great food for my worms which in turn feed the chickens and the fish.

Flemish Giant rabbits

Second, the FFA and 4-H in this area do not have much to chose from when it comes to show rabbits. If I can breed up to show quality, then the market for the Giants will expand. Thirdly, they are for food in case times get real bad.

The mini goats have taken a back seat for the time being. The way it looks I might have to build them their own barn.

Is it going as fast as I would like it to? No. But in just a few short months we have gone from a blank canvas cotton field to an almost working mini-farm. Future building plans include a brooder house, green house, above ground root cellar, solar shower and many more little things to turn this small piece of dirt into our dream.

You can watch it all being built on our personal blog Modern Day Redneck.

Miniature Cattle

A photo of the Modern Day RedneckI was trying to figure out what I could raise on such a small farm besides the normal chickens, rabbits and pygmy goats. I do not want a bunch of hogs to worry about. One or two meat hogs are ok but any more than that and I create fencing and odor problems. So I figured why not Miniature Cattle?

Mostly kept as a hobby and only measuring under 42 inches tall, miniatures do have many advantages:

  • Small efficient beef for “backyard beef.”
  • Good pets to keep on small acreages as little as 1/2 acre.
  • Use to qualify property for agriculture use status.
  • Use for investment groups.
  • Great for 4-H or FFA projects.
  • Good potential to develop a gourmet meat market.
  • Most breeds eat 1/3 the food of large breeds.
  • Not as harsh on the land and the fencing.

As in large cattle, miniatures have many different breeds. Some of the more popular ones are:

Miniature Zebu

Miniature Zebu, Twister
Miniature Zebu, LLL Twister, photo courtesy Lipperts Exotics. 

Miniature Zebu are one of the smallest breeds, and the only true miniature breed that has not been bred down to get their size. However, Zebu cattle are known to be one of the oldest breeds of cattle, possible dating back as far as 6000 B.C. Mature cows should be 300 to 500 pounds; mature bulls from 400 to 600 pounds, and are still extremely rare (about 550 purebred animals in USA) They come in gray red black and the painted color pattern like the bull above, and the babies are a sight to behold looking a lot like a little fawn at birth weighing from 12 to 22 pounds. The advantage of the miniature zebu is that they are better adapted to heat and have a high resistance to disease than most European breeds (they come from India). The maximum allowable height is just over 42 inches behind the hump.

Miniature Longhorn

Miniature Longhorn, LLL Royal Flush
Miniature Longhorn, LLL Royal Flush, photo courtesy Lipperts Exotics. 

These attractive little cattle stand just under 42 inches at the shoulder in a mature bull. They are horned cattle, which, after all, is one of their breed features. They also come in any color pattern you can think of from solid to spots. The horn span can very from 30 to 50 inches wide. A good rule of thumb is the cattle should be the same height at the shoulder as the length of their horns from tip to tip or less. These animals take a considerable amount of time to raise to get the perfect little cow, and all that horn is quite the thing to see in person.

Miniature Hereford

Miniature Hereford, Point of Rocks Ranch
Miniature Hereford, photo courtesy Point of Rocks Ranch. 

The cows are about 42 inches tall, and their average weight range is 650 to 750 lbs. The calves have a birth weight of around 57 pounds and at weaning the average weight is 375 pounds. The advantages of this breed are the smaller cuts of meat, the higher stocking rate per acre, high feed conversion rates, less damage to pasture, especially on wet soils, easy calving, and excellent weight gains.

[If you're near Austin, Texas, and would like to see a few Miniature Herefords in person, check them out at the Star of Texas Show March 12-27, 2010. The Miniature Hereford Sale is March 19, 2010, at 11 a.m. – Eds. ]

Dexter

Dexter.jpg
Photograph by Patrice Lewis

Dexters are a hardy breed of small mountain cattle, originally derived from the Celtic cattle of ancient Ireland. They are the smallest British breed of cattle with a cow being from 36 inches to just over a 42 inches at the shoulder. An average cow weighs about 775 lbs. The coat is usually black, but it can be red or dun brown. They are very hardy, requiring no pampering, yet remain efficient converters of feed to meat. Like most small breeds, they require only half the space a conventional animal would take. Pasture fed animals can finished early, at 18 to 24 months and 775 pounds live weight, without supplementary feeds, and still have good marbling and meat flavor. Heifers are precocious, and can be mated at 15 to 18 months. The Dexter is noted for easy calving, and the breed is known for the long useful breeding life of the cows – up to fourteen years, sometimes more.

This is just to name a few of the breeds I have been researching and noticed a popularity trend among them.

I have found that even though miniature cattle are small in size, the price tags for these little grass eaters made my heart skip a beat. It seams the smaller the cow is, the more it costs. I am leaning toward the Dexter breed due to their hardiness, easy calving and of course the cost.

References:
American Minature Zebu Association, www.americanminiaturezebuassociation.org
American Dexter Cattle Association, www.dextercattle.org
Lipperts Exotics (Miniature Longhorns and Miniature Zebu), www.lippertsminiaturecattle.com
Point of Rocks Ranch (Miniature Herefords), www.minihereford.com
The Natural Food Hub, www.naturalhub.com

Starting Over: Going Back to the Country

A photo of the Modern Day RedneckVisualize this. The game is baseball. The batter is warmed up and ready and steps into the batters box. First the left foot then the right, grinding the toe of his shoe into the dirt to get the right grip. The pitcher is waiting, leaned slightly forward one hand tightly gripping the ball behind his back and staring straight ahead with extreme focus. The batter takes a couple of practice swings to find his grove then sets back ready for the pitch. He has studied this pitcher for many years and knows without a doubt, this pitch is going to be a fast ball.

Here’s the wind up, swing and a miss. To the batter’s disbelief, it was a curve ball. This is the best way to describe what life did to me a couple of months ago.

At age eighteen I promised my newlywed wife a life of luxury and ease. Fifteen years later she finally called my bluff. We started out in a two room shack I built paycheck by paycheck back on the family farm. This place was temporary, of course. “Just for a year or so,” I kept telling myself.

Our temporary two-room old farm house turned into 15 years of memories. I added on to that old thing at least four times. In the end, the house covered the whole hillside. With never building much more than an animal barn, the walls were so loose you could have thrown a full grown mountain lion through them and never hit a stud.

Life on that hill was not easy, and I feel that I am a lucky man that she stayed right beside me for all those hard years. We were so broke we could barely afford food much less propane or electricity to cook it on. We cooked outside in open pits for most of the year, and when it was too cold or the rain kept us inside, we cooked on the pot belly stove we had tucked in the corner of the living room. To this day I still think a pot belly stove cooks the best pot of red beans.

For power, we tapped into my dad’s shop over 1000 feet away. All we could have on was the small ice box (refrigerator) and a couple of lights. Anything else would trip the breaker, and I would have to make the long hike down the hill the turn it back on. So we ran oil lamps for light during the evenings. When the kids started getting older and asking questions, we would just say, “We are play camping.” They never seemed to mind.

I ran a water line from the nearest barn after figuring out hauling water up the hill to the house was really not my thing. The girls refused to use the out house after a small incident with my mother and a raccoon. I swear, I didn’t think anyone could run that fast with their pants around their ankles. We still laugh about it today. So, for the sewer, I dug a hole and put some concrete culverts as my septic tanks and ran the lateral lines on top of the ground back in the woods. Out of sight, out of mind right? I never did tell my wife where all those lush red tomatoes came from.

Even with all the fun, all I could think about was getting off the farm and starting a new life. I wanted to buy a real home and give my family something better. I wanted them to be proud of themselves and to be proud of what they had. It broke my heart to see my little girl cry when one of her friend’s mom would not let her daughter get out of the car for fear of the rednecks. I was embarrassed; we as a family were embarrassed.

At age thirty-five, I moved for the very first time. It was one of hardest things I have ever done as an adult. This farm is where my Grandfather was raised, where my Dad was raised, where I was raised, and it was where my children started being raised. Every story and memory I have centers around this home place.

We moved into a brick home on a half acre lot in a small sleepy town 20 miles north. The important thing to know is this was the first time I ever had neighbors. The very first weekend in the new house we threw a house warming party. All my family and redneck friends came up, and we had a great time just like we did on the farm. Before long, our driveway was packed and our front yard was full of cars. Then before I realized it, both of the neighbors’ yards were full of cars. I did not really see a problem in this due to the fact I had invited them over for BBQ the day before and that meant we were like family. To my surprise the new neighbors had a hard time seeing it this way. Needless to say I did not make a great first impression. After the smoke cleared, I told them I would fix all the ruts in their yards and pick up all the trash. We never did find that missing dog.

It only took about three months before the newness of the house wore off, and I started thinking this might be a bad deal I got myself into. All the sudden, I had a $1500 a month house payment with all the bills to go with it. The good news was I had a good paying job and worked 70 hours a week. The 30 hours a week of overtime on my check made for easy living, but in the back of my mind I knew the overtime couldn’t last forever.

Little did I know just 4 years later my overtime would be cut off, and my wife would not be able to work. Life lesson number one, never budget for overtime. With only one income and a little 40-hour check, we could not keep the house. I did the budget and made the decision. We needed to get out before the sheriff threw us out.

The New Place

We found a little place out in the country and moved in over this past Thanksgiving. It is a mobile home and sits on two acres with a 30-by-50 barn tucked on the back fence line. It’s by far not the old farm place, but I think I can make it work. I have a 3-year plan to be completely self-sufficient and off the grid. So far I have built the dog pen, a compost area, put in two raised-bed gardens, built the foundation for the patio, started the small animal barn, built a wind turbine and put up one of those little metal buildings for a tool shed near the house. I could have built one heck of a barn in the same time it took me to put that stupid little thing together, never again!

I have 48 projects in total in order to reach my goal.

Looking back now, life on the farm was great. It is hard to think I ever wanted to leave that place. I was free, I was off the grid, and most of all it was paid for. I can look back and see how living away the past 4 years I have been trying to recreate that same way of life. While living in the city, I had a rain water harvesting system, a few chickens, a green house, several gardens, a cooking pit and was on the verge of getting some pygmy goats for the milk. I heated the house with the fireplace throughout most of the winter because I never had central heat and really did not like it. I ran oil lamps most nights because I love the light it gives off.

On a smaller scale, I can have that freedom back. It will take a little while and a lot of hard work to get everything the way I want it, but the key thing is I am back in the country.

Keep up with MDR’s daily progress at Modern Day Redneck

The Tree House of Dreams

A photo of the Modern Day RedneckI was around ten years old when I nailed on the first board which was the beginning of my new tree house. It was not till years later that I learned the value of such a simple pile of old scrap lumber stuck up in a tree.

Like most farm boys I was never able to have the childhood all my city friends had. I was never able to simply just hang out at a friend’s house, never able to go on long luxurious vacations or even spend all day just being bored. No sick days, no excuses, the chores had to be done.

 

The tree house

For my siblings and me, the day started at 5:00 AM with my dad hollering out from the kitchen, “GET UP!” Without hesitation our feet hit the floor and out the door we went. My chores consisted of milking the goats, feeding the hogs and tending to the chickens. This left me with just enough time to take a quick shower, get dressed, run through the house grabbing a piece of warm cinnamon toast and onto the school bus.

The evenings were not much different. Of course homework came first. I didn’t mind doing it to much because momma always had a nice little snack ready for me, then it was off to the barn to do chores. It was usually dark when I got back to the house, and by that time I was ready for another hot shower to wash the goat smell off and then to fill my empty stomach with some good food. One good thing about living on the farm is we always had a nice big home cooked meal. While milking the goats I would usually hear my stomach growling due to the smell of those chicken and dumplings making its way to the barn. Momma would start supper early in the day to make sure it was ready for us growing, hungry boys when we all came in. My brother and I fought, pushed and shoved to be the first in line to fill our plate to its limits. For some reason we thought if you were the last in line you might go hungry, but there was always enough food, most of the time even for seconds. If we were really lucky, mom and dad would let us stay up to watch Hee Haw.

Weekends were spent cleaning stalls, grinding feed and building one thing or another. The only escape to childhood I had was a little triangle-shaped, three-story tree house I built using scrap lumber and bent nails. I did not know at the time, but I created a lifetime of memories. On rare occasions when I found myself with nothing to do, I was in that little tree house and imagining a whole different world. If you would have walked by and listened real close, you would have heard an Army commander giving his troops marching orders from the lookout tower. Or you would have heard a play by play announcement of the world title wrestling match between Kerry Von Erich and Rick Flair. I could not tell you the number of times I was either Bo Duke or the Six Million Dollar Man. It was my own world, no one else’s.

On warm summer nights I would sometimes convince momma to let me sleep up in that tree. I would lie awake looking up at the stars, dreaming of space travel or walking on the moon, hypnotized by the sound of the wind swaying that old thing back and forth making the same creeks and cracks over and over as it flowed.

Eventually I got to old for that tree house and eventually it got to old as well. Board by board my imaginary world rotted and fell to the ground until it was no more, leaving just memories laying scattered around the tree base. I did not give it much thought back then, not until several years later when my three girls were old enough and asked if they could have one of their own. We picked out the perfect tree and board by board we built another little house of memories. I remember many days while working outside I could hear laughter and singing coming from that little place, and if I listened real close I could almost hear an Army commander giving her troops their marching orders.

This Old Barn

This old barn sits by the road right in the middle of town. I have passed it a hundred times and often wondered about the changes this old thing has seen and the stories it could tell.

I was on the way home one day and saw a feeble old man parked and standing by the road with a lost look on his face. I stopped and asked if he needed anything or if I could help. He said he was looking for something and described this old barn and was wondering if I knew where it was. He could have sworn it was right where he was standing. Instead of trying to give the old timer directions and get him even more turned around, I thought it would be better to have him follow me. As we pulled up to the old barn I got out and asked him if this was the place he was looking for. The old feller slowly stood, shielding his weathered face from the bright sun and stared. A smile spread across his face and in a low whisper said, “Yup, this is it.”

Old Barn

I could have just driven by the lost old man or I could have just pointed in the direction of the barn when he asked and said “that way,” or I guess I could have just pointed out the window as I drove by it showing him there it is. For over an hour that man told me stories of his childhood and that broken down old barn. He pointed up to the loft and talked about the makeshift bed his mom and dad had back in the corner and said that was where he was born and spent many years of his young life.

As he talked he stared off across the surrounding houses trying to recall his memories of the open fields and a whole other lifetime so many years ago. I could only imagine what his eyes were seeing while he was talking. He told me he wanted to see this old thing one last time before he moved on. A chill ran through my body, and I couldn't say a word. I just let him talk, mesmerized by his words, not wanting to interrupt any part of his story. I never saw the old man after that day. I didn't even catch his name and I don't guess he ever said it, but I feel deeply privileged to have met him and that I was there to listen. I am sure he has moved on by now, and I am sure his journey home was with angels.