Made in the USA! Products we LOVE…
In a time when we can purchase just about anything right from the tips of our fingers, it is often hard to sort through all the marketing chaos to find solid, American companies with ethically sourced products. The rise and fall of big tech companies all vying for the almighty American dollar. Health fads have come and gone but one truth seems to have outlasted any marketing campaign - Natural is Best. As our healthcare costs skyrocket for various reasons, part of the solution is for all of us to be healthier. Regular exercise, eating clean and fresh and putting products on our bodies and around us that are as simple and healthy as possible. (Avoiding synthetic fragrances and stuff that’s so chemically processed the ingredient list is unpronounceable.) Add in products that are made in the USA, grown here when possible, supports our veterans, helps our environment and we have hit the jackpot. And while it is unrealistic to think that every item will hit every check mark on my list, there are many American companies that are doing their part to hit as many as possible.
This particular blog will be an ongoing collaboration of companies and products that our family has tried and loves - Most of the products will be from American companies that source as much as possible from here in the US or ethically source from other countries (think coffee beans) and assemble here in the USA. If you find products you love that aren’t on this list, please email us at IronSideRanchLLC@gmail.com. Would love to hear about what you have found that’s American made! Some companies are open about their political stances and some aren’t - and while we have our own set of personal beliefs and values, we try to let the products speak for themselves. Please send us companies that you’ve found and love and we’ll check them out and share!
Black Rifle Coffee
“Black Rifle Coffee Company is a veteran-owned coffee company serving premium coffee to people who love America.” Mackay and I are avid coffee drinkers and have tried different brands over the years - everything from Folgers, Starbucks, to Fresh Market varieties and Black Rifle Coffee is by far the best we have had. We love that they are a veteran owned company and have great tasting coffee! We finally bit the bullet and joined their monthly subscription and have not once regretted it. We enjoy medium roasts and have found “Coffee or Die” to be one of our favorites but have in no way extinguished all of their options. You can buy ground or whole bean and in the whole bean category, they also offer a certified organic variety. What’s more American than supporting our Veterans while drinking an all-American drink, coffee? Best. Coffee. Ever.
Legends Creek Farm
We enjoy their body lotions and soap. This is a company that is certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny. They love their goats and so do we! They raise and keep all of their goats, offspring included; each with a name! As I lather on my lotion that ingredients that I recognize, I wonder which momma goat gave the milk for my bottle. Their customer service is great - I had an issue with my first order and they resolved it quickly. We all have sensitive skin (our daughter has mild eczema) and in combination with a healthy lifestyle, Legends Creek Farm products have been very helpful in keeping her skin clear. They included a free lip balm/chapstick in my last order that I love just as much Burt’s Bees - we are now moving to Legends Creek Farm for chapstick too! The body lotions go on smooth and don’t leave a greasy residue. I love their whipped lotions during the winter when I need just a little something more for dry skin. Their goat milk soap is refreshing, washes off nicely and has wonderful but light scents. (The triple milled bars last a LONG time.) If you don’t have the time or resources to make your own soap, this is a wonderful alternative for the whole family. Honest, simple ingredients for great products.
I cannot speak highly enough of MyPillow quality and products. The founder of MyPillow, Mike Lindell’s story is truly quite amazing and an inspiration to many young entrepreneurs. Several months ago we purchased a mattress topper out of necessity for Mackay’s back. Back problems naturally take time to heal and he’s made progressive progress these past few months. How I wish we had had this when I was pregnant! We also have really enjoyed their sheets and towels too. Made in the USA and generally with American materials (USA cotton). Everything is really well made, soft and durable. I think it’s funny that we still haven’t purchased the pillows yet, but they’re on the list! Wait for their discount codes via emails or texts to get the best deals.
They have come a long way since their original embroidered handkerchiefs. Ladies, these are the most comfortable bras and underwear you will ever wear. They use ethically sourced materials and all made in the wonderful USA (including all the cotton fibers). I have not tried their famous “lace butter” thongs yet but their uhm, more full coverage options, fit beautifully. I did a lot of research looking for attractive, wearable underwear that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and this is what I found. In order to keep it more friendly to my budget, I buy from their 3 for $48 and have been quite happy with the selections. It seems that the majority of underwear is made in China (or extremely expensive options from Europe) or IF they’re made here, they’re something that looks like my Grandma would wear - but NOT HankyPanky! Their designs are sexy, wearable, comfortable and sustainable. The dyes are eco-friendly and adhere to the American environmental regulations. They also offer a “Lingeriecycle” program where you mail them your clean, used/worn out lingerie and they recycle it into carpet padding. My envelope is just about full of my old lingerie and will be mailed after my next order or two of replacement underwear. I will admit, my husband does seem to enjoy me wearing them but ultimately, I buy them for me! Great products for when you want to get the hanky Panky going or when you just want to feel beautiful and comfortable for yourself.
Skin care - taking care of our largest organ in our body is important! And let’s face it, most women are trying to beat the clock and looking for ways to look as young possible. There are sooooo many lines of skincare available and many are quite expensive. I wanted a line that had simple ingredients, no artificial fragrances, no parabens, no words I couldn’t pronounce, and was budget friendly. This is what I found - all made in the USA from globally sourced materials. They are 100% cruelty-free. They don’t pay celebrities to endorse their products and they had wonderful reviews. I’ve been using their products now for just over a year and have been very pleased with the line as a whole. There are a variety of products for skin types - I have dry skin and love their Glyco-Peptide anti wrinkle moisturizer that I mix with a few drops of their Pure Rosehip Oil. Their Vitamin C and Hyaluronic Acid serums are also on my favorite list. Shop their bundles for the best deals.
Finally a place to buy essential oils that isn’t a multi-level marketing company! They offer a variety of products but I have fallen in love with their essential oils. They are safe and effective, top quality and affordable. If you love a quality product but are tired of monthly subscriptions, look no further. Their website is full of useful information, blogs on safety and efficacy, oils for children and pets and they even include sticker labels for the top of the bottles! I can easily find the essential oil I’m looking for without having to touch each bottle to view the label. We go through a lot of lavender, peppermint and lemon and they have conveniently offered 100 ml bottle options! Go smell your way to a happier day…
Body wash and shampoo! All Plant-based, 99.3% all natural, organic ingredients made in the USA (of course). We buy our body wash and shampoo in bulk from Puracy. I originally started buying from them when we had a new-born because we wanted something safe for his delicate skin that was guaranteed to be made here in the USA. Since then, we have expanded into their body wash, shampoo and conditioner for the rest of the family. They also have other products but these are the ones that we use and love. Eco-friendly, pronounceable ingredients, ethically sourced and made in Texas. This company has won many major awards (not that I really care about that) and been featured in magazines (don’t care about that either). We reuse the original bottles and refill from their 64oz containers. Their products are safe for color-treated hair, animal friendly (certified cruelty free), great for your skin and everyone in your household.
Sunscreen at its finest! This is perhaps one of my happier finds! The company just seems like a wonderful company, on-site childcare, allows newborns to join parents at work, very observant of environmental impact of their products and I love their Natural Mineral Face Sunscreen “Damascus Rose”. Finally a sunscreen that I can wear on my face that doesn’t clog my pores, leave a white residue, works great under make up or bare faced. All of the ingredients are organic, nonGMO, cruelty-free certified, nonNano. Their sunscreens are not a chemical based sunscreen, but use natural minerals like zinc. I have only tried the Damascus Rose facial sunscreen but will definitely be expanding into their other products. We will be buying their reef-friendly body sunscreen for when we are out on the lake (want to protect all animal wildlife, not just the reefs) and bug spray. We are out in the woods all the time and love that they have Deet-Free options that are based with organic citronella, cedar and lemongrass. Protection from the sun while enjoying family time out in it. Bring on the summer!
Finding good quality, affordable forestry equipment Not made in China has been quite an undertaking. This company is based in Canada and has some wonderful equipment. We just bought one of their sawmills (Mackay will be doing a youtube video on it sometime this summer and I’ll update this post with a link to it at that time.) He is very impressed with their quality of products and customer service. Their products are great for everyone from the hobby woodworker to the full-time logger and master wood worker. Sawmills, stump grinders, wood chippers - think of all the projects! Definitely worth the extra shipping wait because their products are in such high demand!
Iron Side Ranch LLC
Best Beef and Pork available in Alabama! Of course I had to plug our own grass fed, nonGMO raised cows and pigs! Steaks ready to be seared on the grill, fresh pulled pork ready for the bbq party and cookout, sausage and bacon for Sunday morning brunch and hamburgers for your family get-together. All locally sourced, raised in sunshine, fresh air, salad bar variety greens, hay and hog feed from Tucker Milling (think organic, nonGMO, everything grown in Alabama). We utilize ranching practices that are great for the environment while encouraging natural animal biodiversity, grasses, tree stands and eventually water conservation (think pond development and reduced run-off) and solar-energy. We have happy cows and happy hogs which means the best tasting meat in town… Farm tours will be available later this year and a farm store opening soon for select-cuts to be purchased on-demand.
When nature is allowed to work the way God intended it too, it works really well. (Imagine that!) As ranchers and farmers have become ‘more advanced’, the further and further away we have moved away from God’s design. People are learning more about what is really happening at feed lots and the horrific treatment livestock are enduring. Chickens being fed a slurry of feces and ground up dead chickens. Hogs that are fed the same crap in pens where they cannot move or see sunlight. Cows standing in filth often up to their hind ends. Each pumped full of antibiotics and drug cocktails all designed to keep them alive as long as possible because otherwise, each animal would die quickly. Even ‘free-range’ chickens are often kept in large cages that aren’t movable which kind of defeats the whole purpose of free-ranging chickens. (Chickens need to be moved around to find the bugs.) We can smell the feedlots before we ever even see them. This type of ranching is not self-sustaining, is harmful to the environment and to us as we consume meat that isn’t clean.
Ok I decided to write this for a few reasons... one because we made a lot of mistakes as we tested and learned about various methods (more on that later) of installing livestock fencing. Two, because our YouTube video is very popular on the subject but let's face it, sometimes you can't watch a video and you just need to read it. And three, sometimes it's easier to get a few more details on paper - so here goes.
Many a farmer, rancher or various hobbies in general need livestock fence. In my eyes, a livestock fence should be flexible for rotational grazing, secure so that animals escaping is never a concern, and affordable so that you are not going bankrupt.
Field fence and cattle panels with an electric wire on the inside provides a nice setup but you'd be broke getting 5 acres of field fencing up, much less a 15, 40 or 100 acre farm. Split rail fences look nice but they deteriorate quickly and really do not provide that much security. I remember as a kid, cows pushing boards off of Dads all the time and he would have to run an electric wire on the inside just to keep them off. Plus fencing 20 acres of split rail is only going to make the big box store rich, not you.
Enter the high tensile fence design or as we've come to install it low tensile but we will get to that. At its core, high tensile fence is a series of posts of various materials with a solid piece of wire running between them. It does not have to be electrified but that is often what it is. Upon completion, it will look like a rudimentary power line running down your field. The huge benefit is that it is by far the cheapest option to provide a flexible perimeter fence on your farm that is sure to keep most animals in.
Before we get started on construction of the fence know that at Iron Side Ranch we like electric fence. It allows us to rotationally graze our livestock within the permitter at our leisure, is safe, reliable, and creates a permanent psychological barrier for the animal that ours don't even test them anymore.
We've tested this fencing method with goats, cows and pigs. It will work on all of them with some training for the animals but cows and pigs are by far the most susceptible to the shock; which means this fence is designed better for them. It works on goats but they still manage to squeeze out and don't much care if they get shocked.
To start, we use 4"-5" creosote posts that are 8 feet long set down 3 feet in the ground. We just backfill the hole with the dirt we removed because it is certainly strong enough; concrete and gravel is costly. Corners, turns, ends and gates should all get at least one if not two posts. We use two posts on ends with an H brace and single posts for rounded corners sharp corners we use two. We add an additional wood post every 200 feet on straight runs.
Between these posts we purchase 1-1/4" fiberglass rod posts from Power Flex Fence and then use a 1 inch diameter 18" long auger bit for a power drill to set holes every 20 feet along our fence line. The fiberglass rods need no insulator but painting increases longevity and visibility which is important on road ways and for your animals. A metal T post driver works well for setting them and will not damage the post. The rods can be drilled but then the line has to be cut if the rod is ever damaged or needs removed. Not a huge problem but remember this line doesn't have any slack so splicing it can be a hassle. We wrap another piece of wire around the post and the friction keeps the wire in place vertically, making a strong and aesthetically pleasing connection.
Steel grounds out wires... period. Insulators break and pigs are notorious for breaking the plastic insulators, which then the fence is grounded and you have no voltage at all. We don't use any steel posts on our farm.
Once the fence posts are set, it's time to get your wire in place. There are a few options for attaching wire and we've tried about all of them. Most knots look ugly but they hold about as well as crimps do. One crimp is generally plenty but we always run a second and on parallel lines we bend the ends perpendicular to the lines to increase the strength of the connection.
The wire rolls weigh 100 pounds and come in 4000 foot wheels. Its a lot of wire and I dont care how strong you are, placing it over your shoulder and feeding line out is not an option. I've done and my entire neck and shoulder were black and blue. A quality Spinning Jinny is about $150 and the job can't reasonably be done without it.
Set the Jinny up at the end of your fence line and pull the wire out. This fence wraps corners but we've found it works a lot better if you just make straight runs and do each side of your paddock as a section. The fence will be tighter and repairs much easier. It also tends to make your corners stronger as the wires pull against each other instead of pushing in on the corner.
Going around corners the wire should be on the outside of the curve or the convex side. If you put it on the inside the wire will gradually pull at the staples. Secure the wire on one end of your line by using a knot or crimps. Now comes the frustrating part...
A simple error and you'll have to splice your line. Not a huge problem but it's certainly annoying. Count out wooden posts so you know how many insulators you'll need. The staples for these insulators are very important. Pound them too hard and you'll cut the insulator, ground out the wire, or worse yet make a weak spot in the wire. Not hard enough and the insulator will move which will again cause your wire to ground out.
The staple should be snug to where you cant move the insulator by hand but that the wire will still slide through (it does not need to slide easily a little friction is ok). I've tried a dozen different size and types of staples. 2 inch double barbed work the best but they're a pain to remove when the inevitable day comes you have to make a wire adjustment, and they tend to distort when you're driving them in a stubborn spot. 1 - 1/4" is the' absolute minimum I would go and we run ours with 1 - 1/2". Smaller staples tend to get pushed out when ornery animals press against them and large pigs tend to do that. Certainly more than 2" is overkill and troublesome to install or remove. Always use double barbed; barbless staples won't hold well long term.
Now it's time to attache a tensioner and springs. Personally we no longer use springs but occasionally we will put it on the top wire just to get a good feel for tension of the other lines and to keep from over-tightening the wire with the most force to move posts. Some ranchers swear by them but we've generally just found them to be unnecessary. The benefit is with damage from a storm they are less likely to break but I don't feel they add enough flexibility to truly offer a benefit here. Use them if you'd like but not a huge deal either way.
You cannot pull high tensile wire with a wire tightener like barbed wire. The slack in high tensile needs adjustments from time to time and there just isn't a good way to fasten everything to keep it tight after pulling. Purchase the tensioners from your local co-op. There are a dozen different types and we haven't found one better than another yet so get the one most affordable and buy the tool to tension them with.
A tensioner needs to be situated in the middle of a straight run and anything over 200 meters needs another one added to it. Don't tension two sections around a corner; it just doesn't work very well. There's too much friction on the line to pull well and the corners want to push in to the field instead of pushing toward one another as they would if you brought it to the opposing corner post.
Tensioned properly, the wood posts should not move but the wire should have a spring to it slightly looser then a guitar string. Too tight and your posts will move and the wire will be sagging within a day. Too loose is actually better which is why we nickname it low tensile fence. This fence is not designed to be a physical barrier and if you try to treat it as one, you will disappointed with the results. It is a psychological barrier with some physical properties. Come back out after 24 hours. If the line is still tight and the fiberglass posts are all in line now you've tensioned it correctly. If you pulled to tight the line will now be loose because the end posts gave way to the force.
In the event you over tighten (happens to all of us), you have a few options. I usually loosen the wires and use a tractor and come-along to straighten the end posts back out where you can use a bag of concrete to secure them better or put a dead man anchor on the other side. (The lines that come off the ground going to the top of a power pole are called a dead man anchor). Then you simply re-tighten the line with a little less force. Don't make the mistake of thinking you can't over tighten it if you put a spring on it's just as easy to do. Basically the goal is to tighten it to the point that the wire is smooth along the entire stretch but no more.
The last concern is the grounding. Grounding is what makes a fence strong. The electricity simply will not flow without good grounding. My rule of thumb is one ground rod per tensioner section on the wire. At the time of this writing I'm fencing a 5 acre paddock in the shape of a triangle, each corner will have tensioners for the line and a ground rod.
The way we connect them ties into our entire fence plan. All of our permitter fences have wires at 9 inches, 18 inches (for pigs) 30 inches (sheep and cows) 36 inches (ground) and 48 inches (predators or obnoxious cows). The 30 inch wire can complete a circuit if an animal touches it, but it is right at nose level for a cow. So in the event a cow tries to stick their head through the wire the 36 and 30 inch line complete the circuit without the grounding rod and really makes a monster shock on them. (Knocked me over when I hit it once.)
Electric chargers are not cruel. Its a momentary discomfort that keeps the cows safe from wondering into the woods or onto a busy highway. You have a responsibility as the caretaker to keep them safe, it is cruel to have a fence that doesn't contain them.
Lastly and most importantly none of this will work if you do not take the time to train your livestock to the fence. We have a training corral setup with various wires and posts that are used on the property solely to show the animals what they look like and what happens when you touch them. The training pen should be the hottest wires on the farm and should be pushing 8-10k volts from an approved charger. Properly trained, they will lose their motivation to test it, thus keeping everyone happy and safely inside their home area.
Happy New Year! We welcome 2021 with high expectations and joy. A lot has happened at Iron Side Ranch this past year. We have had some very high highs and low lows regarding our livestock - everything from birth to death and very interesting life-lessons in between.
Our most interesting additions to the range are our Florida Cracker Cows. Their history is long and fascinating but most importantly, require No vaccinations - which means our livestock do Not do drugs! Our Florida Crackers will be our breeding stock in about 2 years and we currently have 3 young heifers and plan on gaining 6 or 7 more later this year. Stay tuned for a blog later on the rich history and heritage of the Florida Cracker cows.
Perhaps the most memorable experiance of farm life in general has been pig castration. Yes, I helped castrate 3 boars and have 1 more to go this coming weekend. The process itself is not that hard although I do highly recommend two people do it together. First, grab your young boar (less than 8 weeks if possible, while he is still nursing) and place him over a railing with his hindquarters (and balls) towards you. One person will hold the legs apart and still - the other will locate the ball sack and make two slits with a scalpel (we picked ours up at Tractor Supply), one slit over each ball. You will have to cut through several layers of skin and a membrane surrounding the balls. The piglet probably won’t make too much of a fuss up until this point. We found they didn’t start squirming until you reach into the slit and pull the balls out. At this point, you can either pull hard and yank them out or cut them out. We chose to cut them out because pulling seemed more painful. Supposedly, the pigs bleed a little more by cutting the balls out verses pulling but we felt that cutting them was quicker and less painful in the long run. Both methods are considered appropriate. Once both balls have been removed, place the piglet on the ground as-is. No need for sutures or anything else - antiseptic will burn and cause them to rub in the mud more so than letting it heal naturally. Simple enough!
What the text books don’t tell you about castration is the emotional side of pig castration. I highly recommend you eat something before you castrate because of the high adrenaline you’ll experience, especially if you have to do more than one. You want your blood sugar to stay level. (This is not medical advise, we are not medical professionals.) The pigs will carry on, cry, scream and sound like you are trying to kill them and rightly so! I’m not a guy but the idea of being castrated does Not sound fun! It will be a bit traumatic for them and therefore for you as well. It is never fun placing your livestock in distress and it is an unfortunate part of raising livestock. Banding is not an option for pigs, unlike goats and cows. This was our first batch of boars to castrate so it took us a bit longer than expected and we had to rest between each one. We made the unfortunate mistake of only having our morning coffee before attending to this task and after three, had to wrap up and go eat. (Side note: The blades dull fairly quickly and we had to stop and change them out between pigs vs just properly cleaning them. You want a sharp blade for obvious reasons!) And once we had eaten and showered because we stank and smelled like unhappy pig mixed with poop and blood, I took a nap. Yep. Not ashamed to admit that I needed to recharge after that. Our boars were closer to 50 lbs and it was physically taxing holding an angry boar, listening to them cry while watching them being castrated.
By the time we were on to our third boar, he had figured out something was amiss and he was charging at Mackay’s hand trying to bite him. Can’t say that we blamed him one bit for that either - he had just witnessed his brothers getting castrated and he was wanting none of that! Thankfully we had saved the smallest for last because he was the most energetic and maddest of them all. But we are happy to report, all three are recovering just fine and immediately went on to their second breakfast afterwards seeming to have forgotten all about their arduous ordeal. And when we have something unpleasant to do regarding our livestock, I just think about the end product - bacon, sausage or steak and hamburger… and then it’s worth every bit of the growing pains. Maybe another time I’ll write about my first rabbit butcher experience but for now, I’ll end on thoughts of home grown food, ethically raised and drug-free animals. Our livestock have really good lives, lots of fresh food, fresh air and sunshine, all NonGMO feed, and only one bad afternoon. Happy cows and happy pigs (and chickens and rabbits) make great tasting and healthy food for us. I’m proud of what we are accomplishing here at Iron Side Ranch and how much we are learning about being more self-sufficient…
Our feeder pigs have gone to the butcher and I’m flooded with relief and sadness. These pigs have spent the last 7 months here at Iron Side Ranch, growing and growing and growing. (And thereby eating and eating and eating) Pigs are really fascinating creatures with much more personality than I would have ever expected. Yes, I’ve heard of people having pigs as pets but never took them seriously. In a way, I can sorta find the appeal in a pet pig. No, I’m not going to go tame one of our super sweet Kune Kune piglets but I will take the time to appreciate each pig’s uniqueness.
The feeder pigs had a love-hate relationship with us. These are the first of many of who did not receive a name other than “feeder pig”. (One really should not name supper, right?.) These particular pigs are night and day different from Kune Kune’s. I could go on and on about how wonderful Kune Kune’s are - how sweet, docile and friendly they can be. Feeder pigs? They seem to have hit the terrible two’s stage and never left! Our Kune Kune’s never tested the fences or broke out of a pasture until the feeder pigs came along. These feeder pigs grounded out the electric fences, ran through or over temporary electric fences, broke chain link fences and would knock you over in order to get to whatever you had in your hands if you didn’t race past them fast enough to their food bowl. They are smart - testing gates, posts, checking to see if there is a way out of their current pasture into the next. I was surprised at to what they would do in order to be the bigger herd of pigs which included all the ‘studly’ bores. Those feeder pig girls love the boys in the herd and didn’t seem to care one bit about the other females. The Kune Kune girls tolerate the boys but seem to pay them little mind.
We are expecting another much larger set of feeder pigs at the beginning of January and again mid-summer which will be raised from womb to table on pasture and NonGMO feed supplement. We are growing! We have sold some of our livestock (piglets, chickens, eggs, goats and feeder pigs) on a small scale to friends and family and are finally taking the leap of growing large-scale for consumers and restaurants. A little nerve-wracking but exciting at the same time! Our first feeder pigs taught us the importance of having an initial quarantine area for the new arrivals, sturdier electric fencing and the necessity for frequent pasture rotation. Fencing seems to be the biggest hinderance of growing at the moment. The animals need a lot of land to rotate through frequently in order to keep the land in balance and not over-graze. Once we have more fencing up, we plan on expanding into sheep and cow - who doesn't love lamb-shanks and a tender steak? (Shameless plug, we are taking pre-orders on pork now! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.)
However, the biggest lesson I personally learned from the feeder pigs was this…
Don’t go say good-bye at the butcher. I love bacon and sausage, ham, steaks, ground beef, chicken, lamb shanks and everything meat. I love watching the baby animals grow, explore and learn about the world. We give all of our animals a really good life - fresh air, sunshine, warm bedding, lots of grass and pasture, Non GMO feed, friendly ear-scratches - they want for nothing and are happy. But at some point, most of them do become dinner and provide physical nourishment if not for us, someone’s family. But I will never forget going back to scale area at the butcher to comfort the feeder pigs and say a good-bye of sorts and seeing the fear and confusion in their eyes. My heart broke for them. (Our butcher is very humane and the animals fall asleep before butchering - Reed’s Processing in Clanton, AL.) Animals have feelings and should be treated with respect and care while in our charge. They deserve the best life possible before becoming ‘life’ for us. I will admit, during the course of those feeder pigs lifetime, I had told them how much I was looking forward to their sausage when they’d escape, break something or run into me. (And I’m still looking forward to their sausage.) But when I do eat that delicious sausage or bacon, I will stop and give thanks for those feeder pigs. Looking forward to many, many meals of home-grown, pasture raised pork in the years to come. Never thought I'd be a pig farmer or rancher in general but it's one of the best decisions I have ever made... Thank you feeder pigs! You are a blessing in more ways than you'll ever know!
Summer is in full throttle, stifling heat but the gentle drone of kids laughter waxing and waning is enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face. We have wildflowers growing, dandelions abound and grass up to our knees. Wildflowers make beautiful impromptu hair adornments and sometimes land in mason jars of water. Most of the time though, we admire them and leave them for the bees. Long stems of grass become nature’s toothpicks. Potholes in our gravel driveway become the perfect place for making mud balls just in case a sibling makes a sneak attack with the nerf gun. And perhaps the favorite spot in the yard is our one of a kind mud slip and slide. Hours of fun by the kids and their friends running, yelling and slipping down the hill on a slide of mud. They're building their immune systems, using their imaginations and having a blast!
I have the perfect vantage point of watching this slip and slide of summer fun right from my kitchen table. The water sprinkler goes up and shortly after, the dry patch of earth becomes the best free toy the kids could want. Some say the world is in chaos now and maybe it is. But for now, summer holds these kids captive with sunshine, water fights, mud ball fights, nerf gun attacks and bike rides. This is how summer should be for kids. No worries but what to have for their next snack or which book to reread while waiting for the libraries to reopen.
The goats look on and call out to play and beg for food when we walk by. The pigs grunt along happily under the trees looking for grass to nibble on or root around in the cool earth. Piglets weave in and out of the grass playing their own game of impromptu hide and seek with each other. Chickens flutter about looking for delectable bugs and insects. They seem happier now that they are a ladies-only bunch yet I find myself secretly longing for the rooster crow.
Our human son Gatling ("Gator") was born this past December (2019) and is about 7 months old now. Everything is so new and fascinating for him as his eyes grow big and wide with wonder. He adores his big sister and brother and rewards them with frequent squeals and the biggest smiles. His favorite place to be is with them when he isn’t snuggling with his momma. His second favorite place is to be outside watching all the animals and with his dad. Gator is content to let me hold him in the shade as long as he can go back and forth from watching all the livestock and Mackay. Every tool, shelter built, pile of dirt moved is new and intriguing for him. We often wonder what is going on in his little mind. In some ways I’m envious of him. He will grow up learning how to care for animals with dogs as his constant companions, how to drive a tractor, grow fruits and vegetables, move pigs and sheep from pasture to pasture. He will learn to can excess produce preparing for winter. Camping, hunting, shooting, archery, climbing trees with a big brother and sister cheering him on with every scraped knee or elbow. The world is before him with so many possibilities and exciting adventures if he learns to make good decisions.
Summers are for extreme heat and then sudden rain showers and thunder storms. Fresh grass, sweat, sunburns, dogs barking, pulling weeds, sweet tea or a cold beer are all reminders that summer is here for a season all too soon to be replaced by the coming fall. As I reflect on the chaos of the world, I can’t help but be grateful for the here and now of the ranch in the summer; safe, predictable and steady but fresh and new every day.
If you are new”ish” to the prepping or off-grid lifestyle, you may not be familiar with a type of house called an ‘earth ship.’ No joking! The first time I heard this particular home style, I couldn’t help but want to laugh and ask “space ship?” We’ve been researching all sorts of home styles including tiny homes, log cabins, traditional stick built homes, mobile homes, houses with a basement, ones without a basement and the list seemingly could go on forever. We’ve had to think about what exactly we want in our forever home and how will it fit our needs now vs when we are retired. Do we want to connect to the power grid or have solar energy? How about water? Do we have city water, drill a well, set up a water catchment system off our various roofs (think house plus multiple barns and workshop) or collect from our small stream and pond? What about composting toilets? Are composting toilets practical for our style of living or do we need a septic tank and leech field? If we go with a composting toilet, what do we do with our grey water? What IS grey water exactly?
It seemed that the more we researched, the more questions we had and the more our plans kept evolving and changing. The more we learned, the more we started dreaming. Mackay has an extensive background in construction and owns his own residential and commercial inspection company. My other job is a realtor and so we’ve both seen our fair share of homes and had at least a basic idea of what we liked and didn’t like. Thankfully, we have very similar styles that are compatible with our end goal! But what exactly IS an earth-ship? An earth-ship is in a nutshell, sustainable architecture, has passive solar energy, made of natural and recycled materials and often includes earth-packed tires for the foundation and structural support. They often have some sort of water-catchment system and ability to re-use the water in multiple ways. Layout of the surrounding land formation is important in design because cooling tubes are often used to help bring cooler air that’s passed through the earth into the building structure that has well placed sky-lights to allow the hot air to escape through. Heating is often done with wood-burning stoves and well-placed front exterior windows allowing for a type of green house effect. Energy efficient appliances are a must that run off either solar or propane. These types of homes can allow you to go completely off-grid!
Still skeptical? I was too at first and then we started watching youtube videos on construction and listening to testimonies of people who live in them and the more we learned, the more we fell in love with the idea of building our spaceship adjusted to our lifestyle and location needs. Yes, we are still in the beginning stages of planning and dreaming but the idea of not relying on the government for our electricity and water is appealing. Being able to be debt-free with minimal bills is appealing. Having a smaller energy foot print is appealing. Growing our own livestock for meat and milk is appealing. Having fresh fruits and vegetables year round is appealing with canned goods to supplement in the winter made from our own garden, is appealing! The possibilities are exciting and actually practical. Think of it, all the comforts of home yet living with a sustainable lifestyle while enjoying the fruits of your land, literally. Cannot wait to see what we discover next in the planning of our forever home!
However, building our forever home is not actually our next step in getting ready to move to our new property. We are wanting to pay off our land before starting construction on our earth-ship but we still need some place to call home in the meantime. We almost bought a mobile home to place on the property as a temporary solution until we could start building our earth-ship but we couldn’t seem to get everything to line up the way we needed it to. (Initially we were going to find a mobile home and renovate it.) After more research and prayer, we decided to build something that would add long-term value to our property that would be functional and aesthetically pleasing at the same. A Log Cabin! We should be able to cash-flow a small 600ft2 log cabin with a 300ft2 loft. I personally am very excited about being able to seriously downsize, live off-grid and not get into any more debt to have this home! (Eventually our log cabin will become a guest house for anyone visiting.) It’ll have two bedrooms on the main floor and one in the loft, one full bathroom complete with composting toilet and large soak tub, kitchen, living room with a wood-burning stove, solar for electricity and a large covered and screened deck. And yes, there will be air conditioning! A must-have for living in the deep south but we’ll also have well placed windows with screens and skylights to allow for airflow up in the loft area. Heat will be solely provided by the wood-burning stove which means we will be toasty warm all winter! As of right now, Hannah (our daughter) will have the loft bedroom and Joshua (our son) will have the main floor bedroom to share with his coming-soon brother Gatling. (Arrival expected in December.) The back yard will be fenced in with a playground and the front porch will have plenty of space for outdoor living (think rocking chairs and hammocks/swing). Our cabin will be within eyeshot of the pond and overlooking approximately 100 acres of woodland and pasture. Just think of that view! As of right now, the goal is to be able to start the foundation work sometime in either late September or early October. There is still much to be done, calculations to be made and more research needed but plans are coming together and progress is being made!
Living on a ranch and off-grid living is a process. There is no right or wrong way and there are plenty of options to be able to do this affordably and comfortably but it does require deciding on priorities as a family. Unless you have an unlimited budget, there are trade-offs to be considered like downsizing the main refrigerator because it needs to be either solar or propane powered and finding room for a highly efficient deep freezer that runs on it’s own power as well. What’s the point of having cattle, pigs, chickens, goats, and wild game if there isn’t a place to store it? We want a small dishwasher but know we can’t run it at the same time as say the oven or even a hair dryer. We will have to be highly aware of the energy consumption we use on cloudy days and simultaneously at any given point. Appliances will need to not have LED lighting that’s constantly running. With a rain catchment system, during the rainy season we will have more liberties at our water consumption than during the dryer periods. We’ll have to be aware of all aspects of natural resource consumption but we aren’t viewing this as a negative or something to worry about. Candlelight evenings may become more common than just wishful thinking. Watching tv will a planned event and not just background noise. Books will have priority on shelves over toys. Kids will be (and currently are) encouraged to go play in the mud with the dogs. It’s this inner desire to live a simpler, cleaner and more natural life as a family that is driving us make real, tangible changes. And we are loving all parts of this process!
August is rapidly coming to an end and with it the whispers of the upcoming fall with crisp evenings, apple cider and pumpkin spice drinks, bonfires, crunchy leaves, and sweaters. And yet, with temperatures still hovering in the 90’s, fall seems a fair bit of distance away. Normally I long for the changing of seasons and fall will be a welcomed relief from the heat but there’s still much to be enjoyed on Iron Side Ranch during these last few days of the heat.
Homeschooling is in full swing and the kids are seeming to enjoy working at their own pace. The days start off almost identical with the necessary care of our animals. Feeding, watering and checking on their general well-being. They’re always happy to see us in the morning and come running over to be let out of their pens to free-range and eat. The goats need scratching and petting, very similar to our dogs. The chickens flutter out of their chicken tractor with a squawk. The pigs waddle over grunting and ready for food. The dogs bark their morning greeting and jump in anticipation of food bowls being delivered with tails wagging furiously. The kids look for eggs hoping to find enough for breakfast. The sun is out in full force but not so hot that we can’t breath. There is joy in anticipation of a good day with sleepy yawns, big hugs, coffee and smiles.
Child number three, affectionately nick-named Gator, is 23 or 24 weeks along still in utero making demands of his own. He is strong enough now to be felt and seen moving and responding to our voices. He has his own rhythm of life and demands a morning breakfast of protein. And yes, I really do mean demands a protein breakfast. The protein seems to help keep morning sickness at bay until at least lunch. Hannah has enjoyed learning how to cook eggs in a cast iron skillet and if you’ve ever cooked much with cast iron, you know just how much of a feat this is! She is becoming quite accomplished with learning the basics of cooking at the tender age of 8.
We just had several days of summer storms and everything is now a deep lush green. Dragon flies are out and to me, this has always been one sign of the nearing the end of summer. They’re furiously mating before the end of their short lives. Cicadas and frogs croak in the evenings singing their summer lullaby and mating calls. Several of our hens have adopted the goat pen as their evening roost space in order to evade the amorous advances of our two roosters. (Not that I can blame them, those roosters have huge talons that can do damage to their back feathers!) Muscadines are in season and the pear trees have just about given all their fruit (much to the chagrin of our pigs who can’t get enough of them).
Afternoon is now upon us and the heat is almost suffocating because of the humidity. The goats are chewing their cud in the shade and the chickens are hiding somewhere under the trees on the hillside. The pigs go for a quick dip in their water and then nap lazily under the pear trees. Even our dogs have calmed down for a bit to rest. I completely understand why people used to sit on their front porches for the shade and to sip iced tea - anything to beat the heat. Thankfully we have air conditioning and I do everything possible to avoid going out in the blazing heat. Being pregnant, my body is already on the toasty side naturally and I have to force myself to drink enough water to keep from getting dehydrated. There is a lull before the evening cool arrives with a gentle stir of activity. Now is the perfect time to send the kids outside to play in the sprinkler or to find a book to escape into. I may have to try and sneak a quick nap as Gator quiets down from his afternoon gymnastics from lunch and before his evening marathon. Although there is still much to be done between cleaning, laundry and grading the morning tests, I cannot complain. Life is pregnant with possibilities!
Never in a million years would I have thought that pigs could be so cute and unique with their own interesting personality. Yes, that’s correct, interesting personality! We have two more additions to our ranch family - Michelle and Hillary, purebred KuneKune pigs and they are a delight! KuneKune pigs in and of themselves have a fascinating history. They are originally from New Zealand and were on the brink of extinction. After careful breeding and exportation world-wide, it’s safe to say, these pigs are here to stay!
KuneKune pigs may not be as well known as the pot-bellied pig but are fast becoming family pets as well as tasty pork chops and sides of bacon. They are known for being friendly and easily bribable with a tasty pear or apple. Michelle and Hillary free-range for about 70% of their diet which means they LOVE grass, fresh fruits and nuts; all of which are found naturally in our fields! Unlike a lot of pigs, they are content at eating whatever they can find out in the fields which means it takes a bit longer for them to reach butcher weight. Even so, it’s a lot easier to help them be organic and costs less to feed in the long run. (Feeder pigs can take about 4-6 months to achieve full butcher weight whereas KuneKune pigs need about a year to 18 months to reach optimal weight.) Livestock raised on organic, natural diets tend to have a richer, earthier taste with slightly less marbling. They aren’t fed corn supplements to artificially increase their body fat quickly. We only have to supplement their feed with organic protein feed for the remaining 20-30% of their daily required nutrients. We have their pen surrounding our orchard because they’re gentle with the trees themselves but do a fantastic job of eating the fallen fruit and keeping the orchard ground clean while fertilizing the soil for the trees.
Michelle and Hillary will not become bacon for the Barr family. These two girls are lucky and will soon have their very own stud. Their offspring will hopefully become a source of income and food on our plates. We have a family rule that the livestock that is to become food does not get named affectionate names however, all breeding livestock can be named and befriended. Hillary and Michelle are warming up to us now and seem to enjoy a good back-scratch or ear scratch. For me, I found it surprising at how hairy they are! They have course hair all over their bodies and I had always assumed pigs were smooth without hair. Their grunts are unique and can actually communicate a lot about how they’re feeling. Their sounds are different when they’re communicating with us vs with each other and it’s fascinating to listen to them and try to imagine what they’re saying.
More often than not, you’ll find these two girls down in the orchard area munching happily away under the cool of the shade of the trees. They may or may not acknowledge you as you walk over to them depending on if they think you’re bringing them a tasty treat or not. Their lives are simple and relatively stress-free. Bathing as desired in their own spa or resting comfortably under the arms of the trees. The goats tend to stay fairly close but seem relatively uninterested in their hairy pig friends. Two of our dogs would love nothing more than to chase them around and play while our German Shephard Freyja would love to herd them around. The chickens live in harmony with the pigs, keeping bugs at a minimum for everyone. One of the girls (Hannah assures me it’s Michelle) has become particularly attached to Mackay and will climb up in his lap looking for a snack and belly rub.
One of the side benefits of having all these animals are the unexpected family bonding moments. The other day all four of us were in with the pigs and Joshua and Hannah were able to practice with their pocket knives cutting pears slices. It was just before dusk and we could start relaxing together and simply talk. They listened attentively as their daddy patiently explained how to best use the blades to slice small hunks of fruit. They each had a pear to practice on, a slice for the pigs and one for us. They’re learning how to safely handle their pocket knives under supervision, learning a practical skill they’ll need for the rest of their lives. They’re learning how to care for the animals, to interact with them and love on them and provide for them in practical ways. And yet, this time goes even deeper than caring for the animals, it’s family time together. Time we can be ourselves, learn, laugh, eat and fellowship together. These are moments that while they may not specifically remember in detail when they are all grown up, but helps build a lifetime of happy memories and positive feelings they can draw upon when they need it later. Simple teaching moments that help build trust and open lines of communication, sitting together as a family talking; enjoying the here and now together…
*article written in early spring, much to catch up on!
Spring has arrived on Iron Side Ranch! One of my favorite times of the year! In all honesty, the beginning of every season becomes my favorite. Love living in a state that has four distinct seasons… But I digress. The flowers are popping out and yesterday I was driving down our driveway and noticed one side was covered in wild flowers and various weeds. I immediately started thinking of how I could get our goats over to eat everything and enjoy the springtime delicacies. (Which made me want to laugh, who sees flowers and weeds and thinks goat food?) But I absolutely love wildflowers and hope to be able to plant a lot of wildflowers near our bees later this year or early next spring. Their purpose may be to give food and shelter to insects and bees but they sure are beautiful, bright and colorful! Can you imagine a life without flowers? I once heard flowers described as expensive weeds and was aghast. I personally think they are God’s way of clothing our world in beauty, almost like little smiles from God just to say hi.
The kids don’t know it yet, but I have full intentions of taking them with me to clip a bunch of them to give to the goats - not all, but several hand-fulls. We will stop and smell them knowing my kids and they’ll think they are fragrant although these particular wildflowers don’t have a smell to me. But we will smell the fresh dirt and stop to talk and enjoy the sunshine together. Later in the heat of the summer, we’ll do everything we can to avoid to avoid the direct sunlight but for now, I feel like a chameleon. Cannot get enough of sun. Yes, I religiously put on sunscreen everyday on my face and should wear more hats but alas. Come spring, I’m craving for some attention from the sun. As a blond hair, blue eyed fair skin gal, I must admit that I’m at times jealous at how easily Joshua and Hannah tan. They can play for hours in the sun with sunscreen and not get burned and come away with sun kissed hair and a golden tan.
The dogs and baby goats have the right idea - they take lazy naps in the sun. I love to go over to them after they’ve been sunning for a bit and rub my hands through their fur. They’re pleasantly warm and smell a bit dusty. They might even give a little lick or tail wag but are generally happy to lay there and enjoy a little loving. Milk Dud and Snickers still have softer fur compared to their momma and it’s relaxing to pet them and whisper sweet nothings to them. Funny how our farm animals know when to stop eating and working and enjoy the moment.
As of the writing of this blog, we are 4.5 weeks pregnant and we are thrilled! What a blessing to have another little Barr coming in December. Normally, life is very busy and it’s hard to find moments to myself but being pregnant and having morning sickness already, I’ve had to slow down. Yes, I knew I was pregnant at 3 weeks because of morning sickness but I will never complain about how I’m feeling because this baby is a gift! I’ll write later about how wonderful Mackay has been at helping me and how Joshua and Hannah are already trying more to help out but this pregnancy is forcing me to relax a bit, even if it’s for 10 or 15 min’s to sit with the dogs or goats and get some sunshine. Sometimes I imagine the frogs croaking and cicadas singing in the distance are really singing to my unborn baby telling of things to come and the joys found in nature that only comes from listening.
Spring has indeed come to Iron Side Ranch. New life is forming all around, the ground and trees are vibrant in greens with flowers dancing in the breeze. The bees are busy, the goats are growing, chickens are crowing, dogs are barking and kids are running barefoot once again in the grass. And… once again… peace has settled over us as we welcome the new day’s challenges.
I'm a wife, mom of 3 wonderful children, homeschool teacher and loving ranching. After Mackay and I married, we've been steadily pursing our goals of having a self sufficient life and teaching others along the way.