Grit Blogs >

Mulberry Acres Farm

The Argument I Am Glad I Lost

Brenda Arthur"Why did you bring her home?" That’s what I asked my husband after he brought our mid-mini Jersey heifer, Dolly, to the farm. Dolly was a 3-year-old heifer who had been raised on pasture with little to no human contact. Me not knowing much about cows at the time, except for my experience with Daisy (who stands for milking and even insemination without being tied or stanchioned), figured all cows were loveable and friendly toward humans – boy was I wrong!

I had been looking at mini and mid-mini Jersey cows for a while. Our full-sized Jersey Daisy needed a friend and since she was dry a few months of the year, I wanted another cow to fill in the dry times. A couple calves a year would be a bonus too!

I found Dolly online and after a couple months of debating and then waiting on the weather to be at least warm enough so that she wouldn’t freeze on the six-hour drive home, I sent my husband off to pay for her and bring her home. He finally got home with her around 9 that evening and proceeded to unload her. He warned me that she had been snorting and kicking the whole way home. I figured I probably would have been doing the same if I had been stuck in a hot trailer on the Interstate for hours so I let her bad mood go by the wayside.

Her bad mood though didn’t dissipate. She pawed the ground and snorted like a crazed rodeo bull each time I went into the barnyard. Daisy, however, was thrilled at having a pal and the two became fast friends immediately. Daisy wouldn’t let me near Dolly – I thought she was just being jealous that I would give the newbie all the attention that was supposed to be hers alone! I think now I was wrong, and she was just protecting me from a crazy cow! After a few weeks I still couldn’t get anywhere near Dolly without her pawing and snorting at me and told my husband that she would have to go to freezer camp. He wouldn’t have it, saying we spent too much money for her to end up in the freezer.


After a few more weeks, she was no longer acting like a rodeo bull but still ran from me when I walked out. Daisy would be delivering a new calf soon and I was concerned about how Dolly would react since she and Daisy had become inseparable and continually nuzzled and cleaned each other. Would she attack the calf when it was born?

Dolly and Daisy

Dolly and Daisy 2

Dolly not only didn’t attack the calf (Patty Cake), she mothered her! You would have thought that Patty Cake was Dolly’s calf or that somehow she and Daisy both calved her! When Daisy wanted some time away from the calf, Dolly was right there to make sure she was safe and warm! Dolly even let the calf attempt to nurse from her. Remember, Dolly is still a heifer – never been pregnant!

How did I finally get Dolly to be a friendly cow? Time, patience and Daisy. I started by softly talking to her and if she turned to walk away I walked a few steps away from her and turned my back to her. (Though to be honest I always kept my head turned to watch her and listened very carefully to hear if she moved toward me and made sure I had an escape route.)

Eventually I could get close enough to touch her, but only for a second then she would back away. The touches became quick rubs on her forehead, then a quick swipe down her back to now full body rubs and brushings! It took months and a lot of patience, but I think the most help was her watching me milk, brush and hug-up Daisy and seeing that I wasn’t going to hurt her. I don’t think she will ever be another Daisy as she is a rare gem of a cow, but Dolly is friendly, I can trust being around her and she minds when I tell her to move when she is in the way.


Since Dolly arrived, we have purchased two more heifers, one a min-zebu who was scared of humans to the point of pooping each time you got in her vicinity. After several months of giving her the “Dolly Treatment” she too is finally coming around. She will gingerly and quickly grab a treat out of my hand and actually runs up to me looking for treats. I am at the point of being able to get a quick touch before she backs away, but I know that in a matter of time she will get full body rubs and brushings as well.

I am very glad that I lost the argument about sending Dolly to freezer camp!

Part Time Milking

Brenda ArthurOnce-a-day, shared, part-time, whatever you call it – milking when you want/need milk is perfect for us and may be for you. Shared milking is simply allowing the calf to stay with and nurse from momma while you take what you want. Momma cow will make enough for both of you.


I have to admit my first run at milking once a day was not successful. We bought Daisy a few months after she had calved and she was used to being milked twice a day. Following bits of online advice, I was able to find I slowly moved her milkings closer together to finally cut her down to once a day. I was told that her production would drop a bit but that is not what happened. Her production dropped and kept dropping to where I just dried her up since I was only getting a few cups a day only six months after she calved – definitely not worth the time and effort.

This spring once Daisy calved I promised myself to give it a go again and now eight months later I am still getting a gallon each milking. So what did I do differently? I have Daisy’s calf! And, I have left her with Daisy – we share the milk. When Patty Cake (the calf) was born, we left the two together. I milked colostrum to put in the freezer and Patty Cake got the rest. For the first month I didn’t separate the two – Patty Cake and I worked side-by-side, she got all she wanted and needed and so did I.

I think this helped us bond as well as I could reach across and give her a pet as she nursed. As she grew older, I waited until she nursed then I would finish up or put her in a pen, milk, then turn her loose. After a couple months of this routine, I started just locking her up in the evening and letting her out with her momma after I milked in the morning. It took a couple months of doing it this way for Daisy to fully let her milk down for me. Throughout this whole process I only took a gallon leaving the rest for Patty Cake.  She grew like a weed!

Patty and Daisy

During the summer months we purchased a mini-zebu (Beulah), though a year old, she decided she wanted some Daisy milk too! Daisy and Patty Cake readily accepted her, and I let her nurse from Daisy since she was so thin. I am thinking that Patty Cake took to the idea of sharing her momma’s milk so easily since she had been sharing with me since she was born.

Beulah when we brought her home.  Beulah nursing

Beulah when we first brought her home, and right, Beulah nursing.

Beulah - now healthy!

Beulah – finally a bit of weight on her!

We are closing in on nine months since Patty Cake was born and I still get a gallon of milk a day – when I milk. Patty Cake and the Zebu both still nurse a bit in the mornings after I milk. I milk most days, but there are times, like this morning when it's so cold that I just don’t have it in me to milk so I let the little ones have it all and I’m grateful that I haven’t yet figured out how to wean them! I will let nature take its course and Daisy will eventually kick them off or I will be forced to separate them in preparation for the new calf growing in Daisy. In the meantime, Daisy and I are raising happy, healthy calves!

Daisy, Patty Cake and Beulah

Farming Can Be Expensive, But I Love It

Brenda ArthurFarming – even for your own needs can be expensive – not real sure we are saving any money. In fact, unless my math this morning is way off – we are eating probably the worlds most expensive eggs at a hard cost of $6.33 per dozen (no that doesn’t factor in any labor or bedding – just feed!) I couldn’t even ask for that kind of money for the eggs – who would buy them? And we are likely drinking the world’s most expensive milk this winter (I don’t even want to know what that is costing me)!


Non-GMO/organic grains to supplement the free-range poultry and the cows’ diet is quite expensive, as is the organic hay and the straw they need in the winter. Factor in that the hens lay far fewer eggs in winter than in the warmer months and we have only one cow of the five that is currently milking, and I am running a farm in deep, dark red each winter month! No, I won’t make a huge profit, if any, come warmer months when the hens' laying picks up – likely only recoup summer feed costs and maybe, hopefully, put back enough to give a little help with the following winter’s feed bill.


And then there is the garden. We grow most all of our own produce – enough to sustain us throughout the year until the next summer’s harvest is ready. Yes, seeds are relatively inexpensive and the hard-cost for growing is almost nothing compared to buying at a grocery store. However gardening and preserving the harvest is probably the most labor-intensive part of growing our own food. This past year we decided to double the size of the garden so we could sell some of our fresh, organically raised vegetables. Things were off to a great start and all was growing really well with the perfect amounts of rain and sunny days, it looked like it was going to be a great harvest and we might make a few dollars as well. That is until I accidentally left the gate to the garden undone. (Or it could have been that my cows are smart and know how to undo gate chains!) Anyway, all the cows found their way into the garden, trampling and eating to their stomachs content. Thankfully we caught them before all was lost and were able to salvage about half of our produce – enough for us but not enough to sell at market.


So why do I do it? First, and probably the most important is I want to know what we are eating – what went into the food, how it was grown, how it was treated. There is no better feeling than sitting down for a good home-cooked meal and knowing that I grew it all, it is healthy fresh food, and the taste is the best. No chemical fertilizers or weed killers, antibiotics or hormones infect our food.

Secondly, I just love watching the chickens roam around the property watching their antics and interactions with each other and the other animals on the farm. As for the cows – they are just like really big puppies curiously watching your every move, nuzzling up to me for an ear rub or back scratch.


So yes, farming for us is as of yet profitable, but my love for my family and what I feed them and my love of animals makes it worth the labor, time and money spent.


Do you turn a profit with small-scale farming ventures?

My Chicken Addiction

I admit I LOVE chickens! OK, I am addicted to chickens (and cows too, but that is another story)! I love watching them run around the yard pecking for bugs and seeds. I love seeing all their beautiful, colorful feathers. I love that they follow me around as I do farm chores. I love all their different personalities. I love that mother hens completely raise their young without my intervention.

Lil Bit and chicks

A couple years ago I went on a chick buying frenzy. I got around a dozen from different local farms and breeders. My year-old hens also laid and hatched about eight chicks – I had a coop full – actually two coops full by summer.


Much to my dismay, all but four ended up being cockerels; they were beautiful, but oh so noisy. When one crowed, they all started crowing (my poor neighbors probably hated me then). Even the ones I got from a breeder who assured me I was getting pullets ended up being cockerels. And, my poor Henry (Silver Phoenix) was being attacked – so they had to go. I couldn’t get rid of Henry; he was our very first! Sadly I had to find homes for all the cockerels. Do you know how hard it is to re-home roosters? I missed seeing them, but didn’t miss the constant crowing and fighting between them


This year I finally allowed myself to get a few more to add to our flock as our hens' egg production was slowing down – guess that happens with age. This time however I was smart and special ordered pullets that would be old enough so I could be sure I didn’t end up with a bunch of roosters. When the day finally came that my pullets were ready, we drove four hours to pick them up. I can tell you my husband wasn’t happy to make the drive – but I didn’t want them to be mailed – that has to be stressful. So if I could avoid it – I would.

The trip ended up a nice little get-away and I came home with eight pullets of seven different breeds. That trip gave me a Lavender Orpington, a French Blue Marans, a Black Copper Marans, a Welsummer, a Jubilee Orpington, two Splash Marans, and a beautiful Blue Laced Red Wyandotte. Can you tell I like variety? True to the breeder’s word, I did get all pullets, each was gorgeous and healthy. My flock was off and growing again – but I didn’t stop there! I placed an order with another breeder for two Buckeye pullets that would be ready this fall. Did I stop then? No!

Within a week I made another trip to look at some Cream Legbars and Bielefelders and came home with two Cream Legbars and two Bielefelder pullets, and over the next month, after doing a lot of research on the breed, I picked up about 40 more Bielefelders (all but seven were cockerels).

Cockerels? Me? Actually it was intentional this time. What was I thinking? Meat for the freezer for one thing – these chickens get really big. The best characteristic of this breed is you know the gender of the chick the day they hatch. They are calm, gentle, huge, dual-purpose chickens. Even the cockerels are calm and easy-going – so I read.

The second thought was what a perfect way for people who only want pullets to know that they are getting what they want – no chance of getting a cockerel if you only want pullets. I smelled a new farm venture! I am going to raise and sell pullet chicks, We built a new triple section coop that come spring will house the hens on one side, cockerels on the far side (until they are big enough to go to the pasture to grow out) and keep the middle section for hatching and supplies.

Bielefelder chickens | Stuhlgockel/Creative Commons 

Bielefelder chickens. Photo: Stuhlgockel/Creative Commons

We sent the first group of Bielefelder cockerels for processing a few weeks ago. They were 16 weeks old – pretty standard age for processing dual purpose or heritage roo’s. They were huge but didn’t weigh much so I was a bit concerned. They processed at a bit over 4 pounds each. Not bad, but I would like them to be a bit meatier for such a big bird. The meat was very, very good and perfectly tender, not mushy tender like the Cornish X chickens – just good old-fashioned flavor and texture.

The second group will be 16 weeks old next week and I am wondering, do I let them go another month to add more weight? Or will that make them a bit tough? This is a decision I need to make quick but think I am leaning on letting them grow a bit more – after all, these are our test chickens and I need to know the best size and timing for us and our customers.

For those who wonder how I can butcher and eat chickens I have raised, I have to be honest. It was hard at first and took a while to get used to not wondering which one we may be eating. To be able to do this, I think first and foremost is I never name the ones that will eventually be processed. I feed them non-GMO feed, provide them with plenty of fresh water, and keep them as safe as we can, and I force myself to not become attached.

We do not, cannot, process them ourselves we take them to a commercial processor for that. The first time I took some Cornish X chickens for processing, I didn’t sleep at all the night before, stressing over what I was about to do – it was very difficult. I even got a bit teary when I watched the men take the crates out of the truck when I dropped them off. The second time around was a bit easier. It does help knowing that the chickens had a good, albeit short, life. They weren’t caged but allowed to truly free-range during the day. I do this so I can be sure of the quality of meat I feed my family and provide to my customers.

BuckeyeTo end on a happy note – I was finally able to pick up my two Buckeye pullets this past weekend. I love this breed; I think they are my favorite. They are so beautiful with their shiny mahogany body feathers and black tipped tail feathers. And, like the rooster that I had to let go to a new home a couple years ago, they are affectionate birds that love to follow me around.

Oh, and for those who are wondering about the supposed claim that the Bielefelder breed is calm and gentle natured – they are – even the cockerels!

I think my flock is complete. At least for this year anyway!

Our New Coop

Brenda ArthurMy dream coop is done! At least enough for the chickens to move in!

I have waited several months for John to build our new chicken coop, and it is nearly complete (just decorative touches needed)! It is a triple coop that will house the meat/broiler chickens. One section will house the breeding hens and their rooster, the middle will be used for new hatchlings (if I don’t have a broody hen at the time and need to incubate the eggs), equipment and supplies, and the last section for the roosters to grow a bit before being moved to the chicken tractor in the pasture.


Inside brood area

The coop is 8 by 24 feet. The interior is sectioned into three separate areas. The interior walls really aren’t walls but are chicken wire with a screen door to each area. This will help with heating and ventilation and also allow the older chickens to see and get used to the chicks before they are moved from the chick section. There are two chicken doors – one for each end section to let the chickens out to yet-to-be-built covered runs when they can’t be let out to free-range on pasture. We covered the outside in pre-primed osb instead of the usual T111 siding. Not as heavy, but it is fairly well protected from the weather and will be much easier to paint!


We started to paint the floor with marine paint so we could easily hose it down to clean – but after putting down a coat on one end, we decided against the paint. We will likely cover the entire floor with vinyl, as I had originally wanted. There is a very slight slope toward the back to allow for drainage so hosing it out periodically shouldn’t be a problem. No reason not to have a clean coop now!

The eves were left open for ventilation and will be covered with 1/2-inch hardware cloth as will the windows. Got to keep predators and other critters out! When it gets really cold out, I generally stuff straw in the eves to keep some of the cold at bay without sacrificing too much of the ventilation. We installed the windows backwards, at first on accident – silly me didn’t pay attention to the way I stuck it in the hole until it was screwed in place. Instead of taking it out and turning it around, we got to thinking that maybe that would be best anyway – I can open and close them without having to go into the coops now! A genius accident!


The plan is to add insulation to the walls and underneath the metal roof before winter. If we insulate the walls, we will cover them in shower board to make it easy to keep clean. Thinking of hosing it down when I do the floors! If we don’t get to the insulation before winter, we will stack straw bales along the walls as we have in the past.

A few final touches that we will add are old barn wood trim around the windows, a few tin farm signs and a coat of paint.

Door trim

Would love flower boxes but the cows would knock them off. As it is, the cows see their reflections in the windows and moo at themselves. Guess they think there is a new cow in the lot they haven’t met yet! Hoping they don’t break out the windows!

Daisy and Patty in Coop

Animal Instinct

Brenda ArthurI knew Betty Turkey would try to hide her poults if I let her out of the coop - but I did it anyway hoping that by keeping her penned for a week after they hatched she would keep them in the barnyard. Those little poults are nearly impossible to see when out on the ground. I guess nature made them blend in so prey wouldn’t easily spot them. Not only do they blend in with the ground – they don’t all huddle together like chicks do, they are scattered around. They become very still – not moving or making a sound when you get near. I am afraid I will step on one! Well, just as I feared, Betty made it outside the pasture fence with all seven. Took us about an hour to usher her and the chicks back inside and corral them into the coop. We will be repurposing an 8-foot dog kennel lined with hardware cloth for an outside run for them later this week – there they will stay until they are big enough to at least see and to be able to fly from predators when out in the grass.

Turkey Poults

And there's Barney and Rosie – our Great Pyrenees pups (they are now a year old). We allowed the pups to be with the cows while they were in the barnyard and to mingle with the chickens ever since we got them at about 8 weeks old. Early this spring they were big enough to go out to the pasture with the cows. It was so cute seeing them out there napping with the cows while the cows lay chewing their cud. Problem was, they still acted like puppies at times and wanted to chase the newest cow. We felt it best to separate them from the cows after Patty was born the first of May. Now that Patty is nearing 2 months old, we have let the pups back out with the cows. Patty, though, likes to play chase with the pups!


Sleepy Rosie

We have finally started letting the pups outside all night with the livestock and they seem to be enjoying being able to do the job they are meant to do – guard the livestock! It is pretty cool listening to them at night. Rosie stays up at the barn with the animals and Barney heads to the middle pasture. I can hear them checking in with each other. One will give a few quick barks then I hear the other answer. It’s as if they are saying, “all is good on my end – how's yours looking?” Yes, I would like to sleep all night without the barking – but it is getting less each night and I do feel more secure knowing they are out there warning away predators of all kinds! Hopefully my neighbors appreciate their work as well!

Maggie, our Border Collie mix, grew up in the city with us before we moved to the country. She never had a chance to do her natural job – herding. It was so much fun when we got our first chickens a few years back watching her go to work. She knew she was supposed to herd them – she just didn’t know where to herd them to! She would move those chicks all around the yard to no place in particular – just move them!


Jack, our Rat Terrier mix, also grew up in the city with us, but once we got to the country his instincts quickly kicked in and he became an ace mole catcher (actually any small animal that burrows). Our friends have often commented that they need to borrow him to rid their yards of moles!


How do animals know to do what they do? We didn’t train any of the dogs to do what they do! How do they know instinctively to separate to guard against predators? Dig for moles? Herd other animals? Obviously we didn’t train Betty Turkey to move her chicks, but we knew that’s what she would do since her mamma did the same thing, and she and most of her babies died because of it. Knowing that is their instinct we tried to undo it by keeping her penned for a while – but it didn’t work – her instinct is just too strong.

I guess there is a lesson here – know what an animals natural instincts are before you get them. For us it has worked out beautifully as all our farm dogs were rescues except for Barney and Rosie. All of our dogs have a job – one that is natural and instinctive to them and they each do a fine job!

Why We Keep a Family Cow

Brenda ArthurWe got Daisy, our full-size Jersey, a year ago. We had been discussing getting a cow for a couple years when the farm where we had a herd-share called to say they were looking for a new home for Daisy. Daisy was 3 years old at the time and had just freshened with her first calf a month or so earlier. The problem for the farmer was she was milking from only 3 teats – no mastitis – just no milk from one quarter. She seemed perfect for us since there are only 2 of us and we don't need that much milk.

The day came when I went to meet Daisy and see if we would be a good fit. Without any coaxing she walked right up to me and licked me in the face! Yuck – her tongue was rough like a cat tongue and slobbery – but I instantly fell in love with her. A few weeks later we loaded her in the trailer and brought her home. She quickly settled in and the milk started flowing into the refrigerator!

Finally I was able to make all the dairy products I had been dreaming about. Growing up on a farm in the mountains of West Virginia I was used to all the homemade natural dairy products that I could now make myself! Sadly my grandparents both passed away several years ago and with them the knowledge that I needed to use all this milk and cream. Of course the butter making was easy, but what about everything else? I wasted a lot of milk trying to make things that tasted as good as what I remembered but have finally achieved the results I wanted. Maybe not making them the way my grandmother did – but just as good none-the-less.

Nothing beats fresh buttermilk, homemade ice cream, yogurt, sour cream and cottage cheese. I can feed my family healthy dairy products that I make (with Daisy’s help of course). I know what the cow that produces the milk eats and know that no hormones or antibiotics taint her milk.