Vineyard Planting and House Progress

Reader Contribution by Samantha Biggers
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A lot has been going on at the farm. It has been a long time since I have blogged. Something I have promised time and time again to dedicate more time to. As many of you experience, time is all too short on a homestead. Since my last post a good bit has changed on the farm.

Dexter Cattle

After several years of raising Dexters and dealing with how highstrung they are, we made the decision to switch to Black Baldie and Hereford cattle. This required selling a lot of our cattle herd. We learned a lot raising the Dexters but found that a lot of things that people say about them barely scratch the surface. The bull we had would not stay in a fence. Nor would the steers. If we tried to move them, the cows would move just fine, but the bull and steers were just too much. Chasing horned cattle through our neighbors’ fields and lawns was something we got tired of really fast. It was just too much. We decided that it was best to have a breed of cow that would not get out every time we were gone for an afternoon.

The Dexter bull we had was very aggressive towards the neighbor’s larger bull as well and quite dangerous with his horns even though he was about 1,000 pounds instead of the 2,000 pounds of the Hereford bull next door. Also the Dexter breed has gone more towards beef production and less towards milk. I suspect the breed has been diluted with Angus blood as well because of the larger sizes and aggressiveness that I have seen in the breed. Breeders continuously breed to bulls that are much too large. The breed standard for a Dexter bull is 1,000 pounds or less but some would weight as much as 1,500 pounds. If you want a cow that large, just get an Angus and be done with it.

If you want milk, be very careful what type of Dexter you are getting. They can test to see if they carry the gene to be a good milker but even that is no guarantee. Since you can only breed Dexters to very small cattle, you have to be careful and make sure she does not get bred by too large a bull. Another disadvantage is that many of the people who breed Dexters don’t cull animals when they should. There are several reasons for this that I can think of. One of them is money. You can get a good price for breeding stock. Another is that they get too attached to the cattle and cannot bear to butcher them off. That being said, the Dexters did provide excellent beef and we still have a few steers that we are butchering off when the time comes. Although it was a good learning experience raising the cattle, I do wish that I had just got Baldies to begin with.

Vineyard and Blueberries

At this point in our lives we have come to the conclusion that the best use of our land is to graze a few cattle but mostly produce fruit. There is not enough acreage to make a good living on grazing it. We live in an excellent area for grape and wine production though, and wine consumption is on the rise. Last year we planted 110 grape vines. Of these vines, 75 are Catawba, 10 are Villard Noir, and 25 are Concord Seedless. This year we are adding 240 vines, which will give us a full half acre under vine. Next year we plan to plant at least another 750 vines, which will put us up to 1,000. This is a very exciting project. I feel that we have found “our thing”. The land is good for grapes and what cannot be planted in grapes is good for blueberries.

Currently we have about 40 Blueberries and hope to add more soon. Both of us have been reading a lot on viticulture. It is incredibly fascinating and I cannot wait to have acres in production. Luckily in North Carolina, it is pretty easy to get your winery permit and you don’t need much of a building to have a legal winery. In fact there is one not too far from here that is only 300 square feet.

At 3,000 feet in elevation, our farm can be a bit cold so we are growing grapes that can handle the cold temperatures of USDA Region 4 or 5. Also we are only growing American or American-European Hybrids with no grafted stock. Some larger wineries try to grow vinifera varities of grapes (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, ect.) and they just don’t grow around here without a lot of spraying and hoping the weather cooperates. We don’t need that kind of stress and I refuse to make wine that has a bunch of junk in it. This area grows some great grapes so long as you grow the ones that are right for the climate. I like wine from vinifera grapes but I am not going to put that much time and money into something that I have to fret over all the time to get even a meager yield. This vineyard is a very exciting project for us and I can’t wait to get this years vines in the ground.

House Progress

As many of you know we have been building our own house for quite some time. It has taken awhile because we had to learn all the skills necessary to complete it and we are still not quite done but very close. Generally with the wood work we have found that we split the work up with Matt doing the actual carpentry and me assisting with cutting and ripping boards when needed, and then sanding and varnishing. The finish work is fun and we get more done splitting the work up that way. We have been getting some furniture completed but I will save that for a future post.

After years of keeping house without a kitchen, we finally have one. I am glad that we waited so long to complete it because it gave us a chance to get better at woodworking and finishing. If we had rushed then I am sure that it would not have turned out so good. The cabinets are solid Red Oak inside and out except for a few shelves that we used scrap cherry. The countertops are Black Walnut with three coats of Glaze or “Bar Coat” epoxy on them. Still have a bit of touch up work to do on the countertops but really happy with how they turned out. Black Walnut was half the cost of Corian countertops even when you count the Glaze coat.

The heat shield behind the range is actually a solid copper ceiling tile. Although we considered hammering our own copper sheet, in this case it made sense to just order a tile made by an American company for $49 plus $16 shipping because of its odd size and how it had to be packaged. Although that cost is not bad at all for a heat shield, I cannot imagine anyone paying that much a square foot for a ceiling! The pictures below are from before the epoxy was put on the countertops and before the cabinet hardware was installed.

While we planned on doing the hearth soon, we had to do it a lot sooner because home insurance companies are pretty picky about how your woodstove is surrounded for fire prevention. Matt did this using black granite and Italian ceramic tile. It was a messy job since he had to use a wet tile saw to cut the granite. Of course cutting granite is time consuming as well since it is so hard. We still have to put up the wood trim but it is good to see it this far along. I need to paint the woodstove one good sunny day when I can open all the windows.


Wow, this was a big project but this previous Fall we underpinned the house with concrete block and filled all the chambers with concrete for insulation. We plan on putting stucco over the block this summer when we get a chance.


We had a little half Dexter and Baldie heifer born and named her Bandit. She is an energetic little cow.

New Dog

Although we really didn’t need a third dog, we got one. Leroy Brown is a Mountain Feist/Lab Cross. He is about eight months old now. We got him when he was 4 to 5 weeks old. He keeps all the other animals on their toes because he is very high energy and likes to taunt them a lot.

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