Good Changes

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Bos, the Highland cow, shares a pasture with Valentine at the Will place.
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Valentine was one of two donkeys to take up residence at the Will farm last year.
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GRIT Editor Oscar H. Will III saw plenty of good changes in 2008.

The post office just delivered a box containing roughly 12 Jersey Giant and 12 Buff Orpington pullet chicks. It still amazes me that creatures so small and fragile can be loaded into little crates and shipped by mail all over the country. As long as the time between hatch and landing in a nice warm brooder is no more than about two days, things generally work out just fine. These chicks will make a tougher transition when we introduce them to our flock in a couple of months. Mature hens don’t like change much, especially when it involves adding strange young chickens to their orderly community. In time, though, they will appreciate the extra body heat on very cold nights.

My wife Kate and I saw plenty of good changes at our place in 2008. We brought a small herd of Scottish Highland cattle to the farm along with four weanling Mulefoot pigs and two donkeys to guard the planned-for-2009 Katahdin sheep flock. We raised registered Angus cattle several years ago, but the Highland breed always looked attractive. These hardy animals are excellent foragers and browsers, incredibly docile, and they produce delicious, tender low-fat beef. We also like them because they look a little like our West Highland White and Cairn terriers.

So how is it that we also went wild for hogs? I blame Carol Ekarius for the Mulefoot pigs. I found her book, Storey’s Illustrated Breed Guide to Sheep, Goats, Cattle and Pigs, so utterly captivating that I read it cover to cover in about three sittings. Actually, I read much of it to my wife Kate, who was equally interested. We have never even thought about raising pigs before, but we have enjoyed some wonderful farm-raised pork. So, after a little investigation, we decided to build a small herd of Mulefoots. These pigs are on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy’s critical list, so we will raise some for breeding stock and some for meat. Check out my blog (The Daily Commute) at to learn more about what’s going on at the Will farm.

You will notice some exciting changes in this issue of Grit. Turn to Page 5 to find out about the best of what’s new on our website. Page 7 is devoted to images that you submitted or posted on our photo sharing site Our art director, Michelle Galins, has worked tirelessly throughout this issue, to help us get more information onto the magazine’s pages, without sacrificing readability. I hope you find the new design to be pleasing and helpful.

The Grit website continues to evolve, thanks especially to our growing list of reader bloggers. When you wonder what life is like on a working cattle ranch in the Nebraska Sand Hills, check out Jennifer Burtwistle’s blog. Paul Gardener lives in suburbia, but he and his family manage their own micro-farm that includes chickens, gardens and great adventures. Do you wonder what it would be like to take a sharp left turn in life and move to a remote, undeveloped ranch? Blogger Robyn Dolan did just that when she was only 34. Check in on her Homesteading with Mrs. D. blog for some edge-of-your-seat excitement … and plenty of sage advice.

Those of you who haven’t found your little piece of heaven will like the new rural property sales listing on Those of you who are already situated on that special place will have fun looking at all of the other possibilities. Just click on the “Land For Sale” link to view thousands of rural property listings.

Whether it’s building a barn, planting a garden or moving to the country, we’d love to know what changes you have in mind for 2009. If you are interested in contributing a Grit blog, just let me know.

See you in March.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper’s Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.